Eye selfie could screen for pancreatic cancer

SEATTLE (REUTERS) - An eye selfie could save lives.

An app called BiliScreen evaluates the color of the white of the eye surrounding the pupil for its level of bilirubin, the compound responsible for the yellowing of the eye in jaundice and an indicator of possibly serious medical conditions.

"One of the particular applications we're interested in is for people with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer, sadly, has a very low 5-year survival rate and that's because the symptoms of pancreatic cancer often get detected too late and options for treatment are very limited," said Alex Mariakakis, a researcher from the University of Washington.

By the time jaundice appears in the eyes of pancreatic cancer victims the disease is already well-established.

The research team hopes that Biliscreen will be able to detect abnormal bilirubin levels before they are visible to the naked eye.

The project has special significance for research team member Dr Jim Taylor, a researcher from the University of Washington..

"My father died of pancreatic cancer and he presented with jaundice, and I have a very close colleague who actually has survived with pancreatic cancer and I started thinking this might be a wonderful thing we can screen people with that could, hopefully, in the future, pick up people earlier and make the outcomes better in people with pancreatic cancer," said Dr Taylor.

Dr Taylor helped design the first BiliScreen study which accurately measured bilirubin levels in 90 percent of subjects.

BiliScreen is now in its second stage of testing.

It's designed to be an easy-to-use, non-invasive, tool that can be used by both medical professionals and an untrained person who wants to determine whether they should consult a medical professional.