Diagnosing TB via Smartphones

Researchers funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) https://www.nibib.nih.gov within NIH, have started a six month pilot study in Lima Peru to use smartphones and computer-aided tools to rapidly screen for Tuberculosis (TB). Peru is one of the countries with the highest number of TB cases in the Americas.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts https://www.uml.edu at Lowell’s Department of Public Health and Department of Computer Sciences, were selected to work on the project. To initiate the research in 2015, a four year $1.3 million grant was received from NIBIB and the National Science Foundation https://www.nsf.gov through the interagency “Smart and Connected Health” (SCH) program to conduct the research. The results for the project were presented to NIBIB in April 2018.

Maria Brunette, PhD., Associate Professor of Global Public Health at UMASS Lowell and the Project’s Director/Principal Investigator, reports, “We found that healthcare professionals are really engaged and excited about the use of mHealth including mobile devices or apps to facilitate and speed up the process. It’s not as simple as developing just the app, but also how researchers are going to be able to integrate the technology into the healthcare system and into the nurses’ work processes and procedures.”

The mHealth system developed by the team to implement in Peru includes a smartphone and a tablet connected to cloud computing servers. The researchers developed computer systems modeled to process data in the way that a human brain would automatically analyze chest X-ray images for signs of active TB.

The networks can access a dataset of thousands of X-rays, accumulated through collaborations with Peruvian TB care providers and researchers. According to Yu Cao, Associate Professor of Computer Science, participating remotely in the demonstration from UMASS, “The 15,000 plus X-ray images being studied may be the world’s largest TB dataset that includes a variety of manifestations of the disease.

The team is conducting the pilot project in healthcare clinics in two districts in Lima, Peru, affected by urban poverty. Nurses and nurse technicians at remote TB clinics will use smartphones to take digital photographs of X-rays to be shared through a secure, web-based platform. Pulmonary specialists view the images remotely and then make the diagnoses.

This project is based also on a participatory research approach including research partners at Boston University, Peruvian Ministry of Health’s TB National Program, Partners in Health Peru, and the University Cayetano Heredia.

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