AstraZeneca, Sanguina to develop app for bloodless blood testing

Red blood cells
The AnemoCheck Mobile smartphone app can measure hemoglobin levels using a single photo of a user’s fingernails, allowing for remote, completely noninvasive monitoring of anemia. (Wikimedia Commons)

The key to monitoring anemia without the need for regular blood draws and lab testing could be in the palm of your hand. Or, more specifically, in the beds of your fingernails.

A smartphone app that analyzes the pallor of a user’s nailbeds from a single photo to gauge hemoglobin levels is currently under development by AstraZeneca and Sanguina, which develops digital diagnostic tools.

The pair has launched a collaborative study to verify its accuracy and usability, a customized version of Sanguina’s existing AnemoCheck Mobile app. The new version will update the algorithms used to measure hemoglobin levels based on close-up photos of nailbeds.

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Hemoglobin is the main protein found in red blood cells, tasked with carrying oxygen throughout the body. Low levels of hemoglobin and red blood cells can result in anemia, and severe cases of anemia can contribute to chronic kidney disease (CKD).

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than one in every seven of the estimated 37 million American adults with CKD also have anemia. Additionally, as CKD progresses and kidney function is lost, anemia becomes more common. The majority of people diagnosed with kidney failure—with less than 15% of the organ still working normally—have anemia, according to the NIH.

With people of Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander descent having increased risk of CKD, AstraZeneca and Sanguina said they plan to recruit a diverse cohort for their validation study of the app’s measurements and to ensure the accuracy of the program's image-trained algorithms.

“In these times, when patients with chronic illness are faced with more challenges than ever, AnemoCheck offers a personalized solution and increased access for patients,” Tarek Rabah, vice president of AstraZeneca’s renal-cardio business in the U.S., said in a release.

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Sanguina first outlined the app’s success in detecting anemia from patient-taken photos in a 2018 study published in Nature Communications. AnemoCheck was found to have a sensitivity of 97% compared to hemoglobin levels measured by a traditional blood draw, a number that increased as the app was calibrated for each individual user.

Since then, the Georgia-based company has raised more than $4 million, backed by the Seed Lab and XRC Labs as well as grants from the National Science Foundation and the NIH. The app made its official debut on Android in December and is slated to arrive for iPhones soon.