Professors’ app helps parents detect eye disease in babies
Most new parents take hundreds of pictures of their newborns. Thanks to a pair of Baylor professors, those photos can now be used to screen for pediatric eye cancer — a simple act that could save the eyesight (and maybe even the lives) of children before it’s too late.
Baylor chemistry professor Bryan Shaw and computer science professor Greg Hamerly joined forces to create CRADLE (ComputeR Assisted Detector of LEukocoria), a free app launched in October that scans baby photos for signs of retinoblastoma (a rare eye disease that is nonetheless the most common form of eye cancer in children up to the age of five) and other eye diseases.
You may remember Shaw’s story: When his son, Noah, was three months old, he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. But looking back, the signs had been visible; the Shaws just didn’t know what they could have been looking for. Photos of Noah at just 12 days old show white pupils, a symptom called leukocoria, which is similar to “red eye” in a photo, only white. The white reflection was caused by the camera flash reflecting off tumors hidden behind both of Noah’s eyes.
The good news is that Noah is now a healthy six-year-old. But the retinoblastoma claimed his right eye, which was removed to keep the cancer from spreading. While thankful for his son’s health, Shaw couldn’t help but wonder if Noah’s disease could have been caught sooner with software designed to spot it.
As a chemistry professor, however, app development was not Shaw’s area of expertise. That’s where Hamerly comes in; together, they developed CRADLE, an app that uses photos parents would be taking anyway to help catch the disease. CRADLE scans baby photos on mobile devices and tablets for signs of disease, allowing parents to contact their doctor and act quickly if signs of cancer appear. While not every case of “white eye” in photos is cancerous, detecting it in photos as early as possible alerts parents to the possibility, so they can in turn alert their doctor as soon as possible.
Taking photos on your mobile device to share with others is so common, why not use those baby photos to heal as well? Shaw hopes that CRADLE will save vision and even lives in a convenient and accessible way — and help families avoid some of the uncertainty and fear that they felt when their infant son was battling the disease.
Sic ’em, Drs. Shaw and Hamerly!