Say 'ah': Smartphone pics diagnose disease

Camera phones have become a key function in mobile health diagnoses. With plug-ins, lenses and other devices, they can be used to diagnose everything from malaria to e. coli.

Now, however, a new app developed by researchers at the University of Missouri uses concepts from Eastern medicine to identify health problems. Specifically, the app takes a photo of a patient's tongue and analyzes its color and any coatings on the tissue to determine if the patient is ill, according to a story published last week in the Daily Mail. and a study published in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The concept is called "zheng" and reveals whether a patient has an imbalance in his or her positive or negative energies, the Mail reports. Zheng can be "hot," indicated by a red or yellow color, or "cold" evidenced by a white coating on the tissue. Those aren't exactly indicative of temperature variations, however, but instead of medical symptoms, according to an MU announcement. Patients with a cold zheng may experience chills or be pale, but they also may have loose stools, according to the announcement.

The smartphone app was able to correctly classify a series of more than 240 gastritis patients according to their hot or cold zheng status. Its creators say they hope the software eventually will be developed to allow for in-home use, so patients can monitor and track their zheng, and possibly even identify disease early enough for preventive measures to be effective.

Researchers also hope to refine the software to obtain images of specific areas of the tongue, which they say are associated with different possible health conditions. For example, in this study, researchers focused on the middle section of the tongue, which is indicative of stomach or gastrointestinal ailments, but the tongue tip is actually more related to pulmonary and cardiac conditions, the study reports.

To learn more:
- see the study itself
- read the Daily Mail story
- here's MU announcement