Picterus: Smartphone-based monitoring of jaundice in newborns

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Ever wondered why yellowing of skin is a cause for concern in newborn babies?

baby+vise profil

Neonatal or Newborn jaundice, refers to the yellow discoloration in a newborn baby’s skin and eyes. It is a common condition in which a chemical known as bilirubin, a waste product of the haemoglobin in red blood cells, builds up in the baby’s blood.

Jaundice usually peaks soon after birth, and is commonly observed by the yellowing of the skin and eyes. However one cannot always be sure and there are always chances of error in judgment.

But worry not! A team in Norway, is working on detecting jaundice in your baby with the help of a smartphone! Picterus, an app under development, is designed to diagnose jaundice in newborns by analyzing their skin color. The company was founded in 2015 by Professor Lise Randeberg, senior consultant pediatrician Anders Aune and Gunnar Vartdal, who has a masters in biophysics and medical technology.

core-team
Lise L. Randeberg, Co-founder and Technical Supervisor; Anders Aune, Co-founder and Medical Supervisor; Gunnar Vartdal, Co-founder and CEO

Below is an email conversation we had with the company about their developing app.

What stage are you in with the product development of Picterus app?

We are finishing up the technology behind the app so that we will get as precise measurements of the severity of jaundice as possible. We have a finished prototype of the app with a user interface that is practically ready for use, but we can’t launch anything before the technology works!

How does the Picterus app work?

It works by analyzing the colors of the newborn’s skin. By measuring the skin color with our own color calibration card, we are able to get very accurate estimates of the true skin color. This in turn makes us able to compare the skin color to our optical skin simulations, and through that estimate the severity of the jaundice. We have one patent pending on our algorithms, and we are currently working on new algorithms that we will also patent.

The technology is currently being developed focused on the pigment bilirubin, which causes jaundice, but can also be used to measure and monitor other pigments and conditions. Our algorithm will, therefore, be able to measure the amount of bilirubin regardless of a number of other pigments present in the skin.

How does Picterus fill a gap in the healthcare community?

There are no accurate low-cost technologies for diagnosing jaundice today. This leads to more than 100,000 newborn deaths each year, and more than 60,000 newborns grow up with permanent brain damage. Cheap phototherapy is becoming more and more available, but without diagnostics, these devices are of no use. We are therefore developing the missing piece in a major global health puzzle.

Are you planning to perform clinical trials?

We have plans for clinical trials and will conduct them when we get funding.

Will you be looking into adapting Picterus technology for other diagnostics?

We definitely see that there are other potential uses of the technology we are developing. But we are first going to focus on jaundice, and get one working product out. Then we will look further into other potential applications.

How has your entrepreneurial journey been from a physicist to a founder of a health-tech start-up?

It has definitely been a challenge with its ups and downs. Although I do not feel I have done a terrible job running this company, it is in hindsight very clear that I have not prioritized correctly in a few situations. One of them is that we spent too much time developing the business aspects of the company and giving presentations at many different venues, without having the technology behind the app completely ready. It is now clear that we should have spent much more time getting the technology ready first. Hopefully, I have learned from some of my mistakes!

One of the most exciting parts of the journey was definitely when we won the DNB Healthcare prize of 1 million NOK as the most promising new healthcare startup in Norway. It was exciting to compete against all the other fantastic startups, and the funding has helped us get quite far on our journey. We also just received a 1 million NOK investment after winning Angel Challenge, a competition to win angel investment.

How is the med-tech startup ecosystem like in Norway?

It is growing and definitely exciting to be a part of. We have universities doing high-quality medical research in Norway and it is clear that this gives rise to many exciting med-tech startups. The whole world should look out for Norwegian med-tech companies in the coming years!

What are your future plans for Picterus? 

We are going to become the world’s number one provider of low-cost precise diagnostic tools for jaundice, contributing to saving more than 100,000 newborn lives each year. After that, we will have to see where this path leads us.

For more information about Picterus, click here.