Designing A One-Cent Test for Jaundice in the Developing World

Jaundice is characterized by yellowing of the skin and affects about 60 percent of infants worldwide. The condition is caused by elevated levels of bilirubin, and for some infants - including about 2.5 million each year in sub-Saharan Africa - bilirubin can build up to levels that can cause permanent brain damage. Most physicians in the developing world diagnose jaundice by looking for signs of yellowing skin but because it is difficult to accurately gauge severity by sight, there's a dual risk of both undertreatment and overtreatment. A team of Rice University undergraduate senior engineering students called BiliQuant is developing a jaundice test system that uses small, low-cost paper strips. Testing would involve pricking the baby's heel and collecting a tiny spot of blood on the paper. The paper would then be inserted into a slot in a small machine, where inexpensive LED lights would shine through the paper. An onboard microprocessor will convert the acquired signal into the concentration of bilirubin present, and the value obtained will be read out on a small LCD screen. The estimated cost per test is one penny.