Future victims of traumatic brain injuries may have more hope of diagnosis and damage assessment, thanks to a new application of eye-tracking technology.
Concussions and other brain injuries have long been known to commonly affect eye function. So it makes sense that irregularities in eye movement could map a path to injury location and severity. Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center found evidence to bear out this theory, and Forbes recently published an article digging into the study.
The researchers looked at 169 subjects, 12 of whom had cranial nerve palsies (a type of brain damage that is sometimes the result of a concussion) or other neurological conditions that affected their optic nerves. They played a four-minute music video and tracked the eye movements of each viewer. They were able to identify the subjects with conditions based on their ratio of horizontal and vertical eye movement, and the location of the damage. And in cases where patients had swelling in the brain (the likely cause of the eye abnormalities), surgery to fix the swelling also normalized eye movements.
At this point, the idea is only in its proof-of-concept phase. Follow-up studies ought to address actual concussion victims, and pinpointing specific results to brain regions will take some time and study.
But eye-tracking technology is simple, portable and inexpensive compared to other diagnosis methods, so the payoff could be wide availability in hospitals and affordable testing for concussion victims.
Diagnoses via eye tracking technology will require some development and refinement before you’ll see eye trackers popping up in emergency room inventories. But it’s a promising first step. In addition to windows to the soul, eyes may also prove to be invaluable beacons to the brain.