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Cough Diagnostics Mobile App in Clinical Trial

Child coughing

(Ryan Boren, Flickr)

22 July 2015. A smartphone app designed to diagnose the nature of a cough by the sound it makes is now being tested in a clinical trial in Australia. The app, developed in the lab of engineering professor Udantha Abeyratne at University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia was licensed to a spin-off company from the university, which was acquired by another Australian enterprise earlier this year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cough is the most frequent illness-related reason for the 1 billion doctors’ visits in the U.S. each year. Coughs are essentially a defense mechanism to clear foreign matter from the respiratory tract, either external irritants such as smoke particles, or infections from inside the body. Diagnosing the cause of a cough, however is an imprecise exercise for people not medically trained.

Abeyratne and colleagues at Queensland developed a machine-learning algorithm that analyzes the sound of the cough, and identifies the basic cause for the cough and its severity. The researchers developed a routine for characterizing the audio patterns in coughs and used those patterns to train a statistical model calculating conditional probabilities to classify the cough. In a proof-of-concept study reported in November 2013 among 91 children with severe respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, bronchiolitis, and asthma, the algorithm was able to accurately identify cases of pneumonia in 94 percent of the cases, based on the sound of the cough alone.

The university licensed the algorithm to ResApp Diagnostics, a spin-off company from the campus for commercialization as a mobile app. In May 2015, Narhex Life Sciences Ltd, another Australian company, acquired ResApp for AUD 4 million (USD 2.96 million), and changed its name to ResApp Health.

The app is designed to run on mobile systems, such as smartphones and wearable devices. ResApp Health aims to market the app to health care providers offering telehealth services and organizations providing or supporting health care in low-resource regions of the world, as well as directly to consumers.

The new clinical trial is testing the app among 150 patients with respiratory conditions at Joondalup Health Campus near Perth, Australia. The study aims to refine the app and underlying algorithm to cover more respiratory diseases beyond asthma and pneumonia, including COPD, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis. ResApp Health is seeking approval to conduct another trial in Australia, and expects to have its app approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the U.S. by the end of 2016.

“My aim is for it to be implemented on mobile phones and other ubiquitous computing devices, empowering and enhancing patient participation in managing respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, asthma and whooping cough,” says Abeyratne in a university statement. The following video from Australian television tells more about the app.

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