By Emily Lohec | Staff Writer, Video by Grace Smith | Broadcast Reporter
What do you get when you put together a father of three, a computer science guru and a few old home photos of young kids? The product became an app called CRADLE, and its outcome is the ability to improve, if not save, young children’s lives.
Back in October of 2014, Dr. Bryan Shaw, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Baylor, alongside Dr. Greg Hamerly, associate professor of computer science at Baylor, developed CRADLE when Shaw’s son lost his eye due to retinoblastoma when he was just 4 months old. CRADLE, a smartphone-based app, is able to improve detection of retinoblastoma.
After five years of free use to the public, the CRADLE app has taken off and has recently been published in Science Advances.
Shaw pinned the stats of the CRADLE data from Science Advances on his computer screen. Since the article went live, the outreach of CRADLE has begun to hit numbers both Shaw and Hamerly hoped for.
“Out of 13 million articles sent to Science Advances, we are in the top 5% of all research outputs for the news media,” Shaw said. “We are only going to continue to see awareness.”
Within a year of creating the app, both Shaw and Hamerly saw the good CRADLE was doing as they began to hear about a variety of success stories both in the United States and internationally as well.
“Within a few short months, I was contacted by some people in Germany who run a nonprofit for cancer awareness,” Shaw said. “They told us about two parents who used the app to catch retinoblastoma early in their children and did not have to remove the eye or receive radiation.”
Shaw said he finds his personal connection to retinal disease and Hamerly’s computer science skills as the perfect combination to use their idea to help as many people as they can.
“We’re in the golden age of computer science, aren’t we?” Shaw said. “You can go from any idea to helping people quickly with very little money.”
Hamerly said he firmly believes the best use of the app is for free public display in places that drive further awareness for how the app can help, in addition to gaining insight into possible health issues.
“Places like Germany have an active promotional agency for retinoblastoma and other eye diseases, so they’ll help popularize the app,” Hamerly said. “It’s always been our hope from the beginning to make an easy-to-use and available worldwide spread for all to use.”
Shaw said the app has been downloaded on every continent, and that the continued press for CRADLE has been beneficial.
“We have tested it on White, Latino, Asian and African-American children,” Shaw said. “We just want to make sure we are training this algorithm so that it includes a racially diverse set of data.”
Shaw said the development of this app would not be possible without the collaboration and determination of those around him, one specific co-partner being Baylor grad Ryan Henning, CEO/CTO and co-founder of AutoAuto.
“Ryan is the person who wrote the first versions and current version of the app,” Hamerly said. “He graduated in 2014, but this was his project he was working, and he helped us develop this app.”
Since being published in Science Advances on Oct. 2, Shaw and Hamerly have only seen the success and awareness for CRADLE increase. Science Advances is a top-leading science magazine that includes the latest science research and developments, including studies and cases of valued and qualified scientists.
Shaw also said National Public Radio (NPR) has been one CRADLE’s supporters since the beginning.
“CRADLE was on the second hour of ‘All Things Considered’ on Monday the 7th,” Shaw said. “They’ve been really helpful in getting the word out to parents to contact us to donate their pictures. If we didn’t have pictures, we can’t do any of this.”
From the published works and NPR podcasts to awards and articles, both Shaw and Hamerly said they have been blessed with the opportunity to help save lives of as many people as they can.
Recent CRADLE developments are underway for the future of the app as well. Shaw and Hamerly said any Baylor students interested in getting involved can email Bryan_Shaw@baylor.edu or Greg_Hamerly@baylor.edu.