Eye spy early diagnosis

Free viewing test can predict ADHD, Alzheimer’s

Image by: Alex Choi

A new Queen’s-developed eye test aims to make predicting neurological disorders as easy as watching television. The test involves tracking a participant’s eye movements while they watch a series of video clips.

“We’re looking for biomarkers to predict who is on the trajectory for different neurological diseases,” Douglas Munoz, lead researcher on the study and professor of biomedical and molecular sciences at Queen’s, said.

He added that the study could predict disorders such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in children, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in the elderly.

The test is designed to be sensitive enough to detect disease before individuals have hit a level for diagnosis but more experiments must be done to confirm this, Munoz said in an email to the Journal. Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are also detectable through the test.

The free viewing tests have been used to classify Parkinson’s disease and ADHD with 89.6 per cent accuracy and ADHD versus FASD with 77.3 per cent accuracy versus control groups. “We need to have the tools to try and identify that as early as possible,” Munoz said.

In the test, video clips change every one to four seconds, called a jump cut.

What the eye moves to after these jump cuts is what can predict neurological disorders.

“The key is, when the jump happens we’re in control, and it takes you about one second as the viewer to regain control of where you’re going to send your eye,” Munoz said, adding that when the viewer regains control another jump cut is added.

The test has been in development since 2006, and is now ready to use. The equipment was designed to be portable.

Currently, there is a free-viewing task lab set up at Hotel Dieu. Munoz and his team started testing the free viewing task on young college undergrads from Queen’s and University of Southern California.

“In the eye movement system that’s when the brain is the best and we can start to see how it deteriorates,” he said. “The peak performance of the ability of the brain to optimally control the behaviour 20-25.”

Once Munoz and his team had established results of the test for people not affected by neurological disorders, they began to use the test on patient groups of young children and the elderly.

“Certain patients deviate from what’s normal in that behaviour, and that’s when we can pull out a computer algorithm and detect when something is not the way it should be,” he said.

Munoz and his team also want to use the same test to find those who may develop neurodegenerative disorders in old age.

“If we can identify who is at risk early using these kinds of techniques then that helps society.” If neurological disorders were predicted earlier, then measures could be taken sooner to stop or slow the progression of the disorder.

Munoz hopes the test will become part of a routine screening given to five-year-old children before they start kindergarten, much the same as their vision and hearing is tested now.



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