Is that cough a sign of pneumonia? There’s an app for that

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In an attempt to bring better diagnostic tools to health care workers and rural patients in developing countries, researchers with STAR Analytical Services are working to develop a mobile phone application that can recognize—and distinguish between—different types of coughs. The goal is to create a simple, portable method to help determine which coughs are the result of the common cold, for example, and can be treated simply in the field, and which may be symptoms of more serious conditions, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, and require more serious medical intervention. Individuals’ coughs will be compared against a range of recorded sounds, reflecting different ages, genders and sizes of coughers, and doctors can assess the nature of the coughs—wet or dry, long or short—all from afar. Researchers hope that the tool will eventually enable cough measurement via cell phone to serve as a simple—and even routine—diagnostic technique, connecting patients to hospitals and medical professionals across vast distances.

The project will be funded by a recently awarded grant for $100,000 as part of the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The team of researchers at STAR submitted a two-page proposal titled, “Using Acoustic Analysis of Cough to Diagnose Pnuemonia,” competing against some 3,000 applicants for the grant money. The research team from STAR, a company that specializes in mathematical modeling, algorithm creation and image and signal processing, includes Dr. Suzanne Smith, a 22-year veteran of the Centers for Disease Control, and Dr. Joel MacAuslan, the company’s president and lead scientist.