Seven years ago, Jill Abraham, a medical professional in the Greensburg, PA community, approached AGI to see if we could help research a noninvasive way to measure Bilirubin levels in infants using reflective spectroscopy. She had read in an SPIE journal about some recent advancement in chip technology she thought could bridge the technological gap in measuring Bilirubin levels in children without hurting them with the current method of blood test using heel sticks.
At the time, we were not able to help, but this spring, we decided to revisit Jill’s idea and hire three summer interns (Adam Gamber, Adam Hidalgo., Kane Mills) to research the current state of noninvasive products and whether these methods accurately measure Bilirubin.
The intern team soon came upon an article in a SPIE Journal relating to the “Development of mobile phone based transcutaneous billiruminometry”. This article exposed some rather startling statistics, not in the development of pain free testing, but rather in the overall incidence of jaundice world-wide and its fatal consequences in third world countries. While in the developed world, the death rate from Jaundice is practically zero, in the 3rd World, chiefly in Sub Saharan and South East Asia regions, estimates as high as 200,000 babies dying each year from the disease, with an additional 300,000 suffering permanent brain damage.
Seeing the staggering number of deaths and disabilities from jaundice in these developing countries, we switched our focus from researching a painless way to measure Bilirubin levels, to publicizing this tragedy and to discovering low cost solutions that can be made available to local medical professionals in areas with high rates of neonatal deaths, due to hyperbilirubinemia. We concentrated on products and research which could be made available in rural areas void of electricity. We wanted to make available access to quantitative tools for Bilirubin diagnosis, such as serum bilirubinometer and transcutaneous bilirubinometer.
We soon added two additional interns (Ethan Toth and Thomas Abraham), and our vision reached further than just another summer project. Two of the interns, Adam Gamber and Ethan furthered the project by authoring a comprehensive research review, which is currently being edited for submission as both a review and technical paper. Gamber and Toth are working with Stanford University Senior Scientist Hendrik Vreman and University of Minnesota researcher Tina Slusher to publish their work in several different medical journals, pending final review.
Figure 1. Neonatal Deaths by region. Low-Income countries do not have access to the resources required for quantitative bilirubin diagnosing tools (serum bilirubinometer, transcutaneous bilirubinometer) and have a higher rate of neonatal deaths due to hyperbilirubinemia.
Our combined interests soon focused on:
1. How can we publicize the enormity of this Jaundice disease which affects so many children?
2. Can we find solutions to dealing with this disease, particularly in areas which lack electricity?
3. How can we raise money to build and employ those methods which can successfully help eradicate this terrible condition?