App scans photos to detect eye conditions

Published: Feb. 13, 2020 at 12:52 PM EST
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Detecting vision problems in young children can be a challenge because they usually don't know what normal vision looks like. Now, an app that scans photos on your smart phone can instantly identify unusual glares that could be a sign of 27 different eye conditions.

Landon Lessman acts like any other curious and playful six-year old, but what you can't see is that Landon has Coats disease, a blood vessel disorder that left him with limited vision in one of his eyes.

His mom, Sarah Lessman, says the clues were hard to spot. "Landon was a little delayed in all of his gross motor and fine motor development," she said.

Four years ago she noticed a white glare in her son's left eye in pictures taken with a flash. The Texas mom thought it was just bad lighting until she started doing some research. "I remember seeing some kind of news article or news report about a little boy having cancer in his eye and it was caught by a glow in the eye like that, and my, my mom alarm bells started going off," Lessman said.

She downloaded cradle, an app that scans photos already on your phone for white eye glares, which can be a symptom of Coats disease, cataracts, or even a type of eye cancer called retinoblastoma.

The app found several white glares and a specialist confirmed Landon had Coats disease.

Bryan Shaw created Cradle to help spot symptoms not easily seen by the naked eye. "People started using it immediately. In the first few months, it was downloaded, oh I think, about 80,000 times," Shaw said.

The Baylor University biochemist knows all too well the importance of catching eye disease early. His oldest son, Noah, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at four-months old. Shaw says he remembers seeing unusual glares in pictures of Noah just days after his birth, but didn't realize that unlike the red eye typically seen in flash photos, a white glow could be a sign of trouble. By the time Noah's eye cancer was diagnosed, it was too late to save his right eye.

"If we'd got him in at 12-days-old, he wouldn't have lost his eye," Shaw said.

Reporter Omar Villafranca: What is that moment like when something that you've created is keeping someone else from going through the pain that your son had to go through?

Bryan Shaw: That's the best feeling in the world. There's no better reward.

Doctors say that while eye apps can generate false positives, any white glare should be checked out quickly to limit disruption to early vision development.