Researchers at the University of California San Diego have discovered an innovative way to detect neurological diseases like Alzheimer's through a smartphone app that uses the device's camera to monitor eye movement to assess cognitive health.
UC San Diego reports the new app utilizes the smartphone's RGB selfie camera and the front-facing near-infrared camera to track how a person's pupil changes in size. Those pupil measurements can reveal a person's cognitive condition.
"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.
"We hope that this opens the door to novel explorations of using smartphones to detect and monitor potential health problems earlier on," said Colin Barry, an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student at UC San Diego and the lead author of the paper.
Barry said the pupils offer insight into a person's neurological functions. An example of this would be pupil size increases during a challenging cognitive task or unexpected sound. Being able to measure changes in pupil diameter is called a pupil response test.
"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.
Researchers said the app's measurements were comparable to a handheld pupillometer used in doctor offices.
"For us, one of the most important factors in technology development is to ensure that these solutions are ultimately usable for anyone. This includes individuals like older adults who might not be accustomed to using smartphones," said Barry.
More testing is needed, but one day, scanning for brain diseases could be as easy as opening up a smartphone app and snapping a few pictures of the eyes while sitting at home.
Watch the app scanning for brain diseases.