Professor’s cancer-detecting app helps save lives in Germany

Last year, Baylor University assistant professor Dr. Bryan Shaw and his team developed an app called Cradle that is able to detect eye cancer in young children. Since then, the app has helped save lives.

The app can detect rare eye cancers like leukocoria and retinoblastoma simply by scanning pictures on one’s phone to detect white-eye. It was developed after Shaw’s son was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when he was just 3 months old.

“When we went back and looked at the pictures, we realized it had been showing up since he was 12 days old,” Shaw said. “ A parent who is really on the ball may be able to pick this up on their own, but this app can speed up or help parents detect white eye.”

Released for the iPhone in 2014 and for Android in 2015 the app has become popular in different countries, particularly Germany. In the first nine months of being released, more than 10,000 people in Germany downloaded the app.

“The CRADLE app is an absolute success in Germany. I think we are the country with the most downloads on this planet, as far as I know,” said Monika Koenig, head of the board of trustees of the German Children’s Eye Cancer Foundation.

When German media outlets heard about the new app, several reported on the new break through in early detection of eye cancer. Soon after, 10 children who claimed the app had detected white eye were sent to the University Hospital in Essen, Germany. Two of the children were diagnosed with retinoblastoma.

Koenig said the families are grateful for the discoveries. “The parents of those two children are absolutely grateful because the children could be treated very easily without chemotherapy and radiation.”

Many doctors and pediatricians have found the new app useful and effective in helping to detect retinoblastoma, Koenig said. The red reflex test, which is currently used in examinations, can be ineffective, Shaw said. In the red reflex test, the doctor shines a light in the eye and looks for a white reflection instead of a red one, but for an unknown reason, that test doesn’t always work.

“Many of (the children) are probably not going to have routine pediatric examinations, but they are going to have their picture taken,” Shaw said. “I really hope this speeds up diagnosis and allows kids to have more vision.”

Shaw said the goal of the app is to detect these cancerous diseases as early as possible in young children. The tumors can start appearing in a child’s eye when they are just a few days old, and, if treated early, vision can be saved. If left untreated, the tumors can travel into the brain and lead to death.

“Whenever you have to go through having a kid with cancer, it sucks, but if you’re going to have to go through it, the best thing that can happen is the kid survives,” Shaw said. “The second best thing that can happen is after he survives, you use that awful ordeal to help other kids out,” Shaw said.

The app has also gained popularity in the U.S. as well as several other countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Shaw and Koenig said they are also hoping this app can help save lives of children living in poorer countries with limited resources to detect the cancer where the survival rate of children is much lower.

“We always say that if we save just one life of a child, then that’s worth all the work for many years, even,” Koenig said. “It is so rewarding to be part of being able to do something good and change the situation for children.”