Two WSU students are creating technology to enable early diagnosis for autism in children.

Lars Neuenschwander and TJ Goble created the smartphone application Appiture to improve health outcomes and reduce the societal burden of autism, which costs a staggering $126 billion per year, according to Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization. Appiture would test for autism spectrum disorder quickly and conveniently, using an external camera and hardware component to see how the eye adjusts to light.

This year, the duo won second place and $12,500 at the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge, hosted by the University of Washington. They also won the first prize of $15,000 at WSU’s Business Plan Competition.

The students’ technology idea is based on research conducted by Georgina Lynch, an assistant professor in the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, which showed that the pupils of children with autism took longer to adjust to light stimulation. The tool they are developing could give doctors the ability to detect autism as early as age two, said Neuenschwander, a bioengineering major.

Appiture co-founders posing with an over-sized check for $15,000.
Team Appiture receiving the grand prize at the 2019 WSU Business Plan Competition.

Today, autism screening procedures are often subjective, like asking parents about their kids’ personality or behavior. The average age of diagnosis is at age four. Using a physiological marker, in addition to behavioral and developmental cues, could bring down that diagnosis age and lead to earlier interventions, such as speech and behavioral therapy, said Goble, a neuroscience major.

Appiture’s testing would only take a few minutes, compared to current screening procedures that can take more than an hour, he added.

Lars Neuenschwander and TJ Goble standing in front of a poster describing their autism-detection app.
Appiture co-founders Lars Neuenschwander and TJ Goble showcasing their app at the VCEA Capstone and Internship expo.

Neuenschwander and Goble became involved with the project through as participants in WSU’s Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute, a multidisciplinary program for students interested in technological entrepreneurship. They became involved with the project after Lynch approached Dr. Howard Davis, professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, to turn her research into a marketable product.

“We are grateful to Dr. Lynch and Dr. Davis for guiding us through this work,” said Goble. “Our training while being part of the Harold Frank program was invaluable in helping us take this project forward.”

The students hope to have their tool ready for the marketplace in the next year. They plan to work with doctors to get a large patient data set and to begin testing and validating their app.