Smartphone app could screen for Alzheimer’s disease

pharmafile | May 4, 2022 | News story | Research and Development  

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a smartphone app with the potential to screen for Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD and other neurological diseases and disorders, by recording closeups of their eye.

The technology utilised by the app is described in a paper set to be presented at the ACM Computer Human Interaction Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2022). The conference will take place from April 30 to May 5 2022 in New Orleans, as a hybrid-onsite event. 

“While there is still a lot of work to be done, I am excited about the potential for using this technology to bring neurological screening out of clinical lab settings and into homes,” shared Colin Barry, an electrical and computer engineering PhD student at UC San Diego and the first author of the paper, which received an Honorable Mention for Best Paper award. “We hope that this opens the door to novel explorations of using smartphones to detect and monitor potential health problems earlier on.”

The app uses a near-infrared camera, which is built into newer smartphones for facial recognition, along with a regular selfie camera to track the changes in size of a person’s pupil. These measurements could be used to assess a person’s cognitive condition, as recent research has shown that pupil size can provide information about a person’s neurological functions. For example, pupil size increases when a person performs a difficult cognitive task or hears an unexpected sound.

“A scalable smartphone assessment tool that can be used for large-scale community screenings could facilitate the development of pupil response tests as minimally-invasive and inexpensive tests to aid in the detection and understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. This could have a huge public health impact,” said Eric Granholm, a psychiatry professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the MHTech Center.

Ana Ovey

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