Brain injuries are complicated things and even now not fully understood. Researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center have completed a study that suggests eye tracking technology may be able to help locate and determine the extent of brain injuries as well as monitor recovery. The key to this method is its simplicity – the required eye tracking analysis can be achieved while patients watch music videos for a few minutes.
Thanks to its relative simplicity, the method can be applied to head trauma or blast injury to assess brain injury quickly. Its potential use in triage marks it as useful, especially given that current techniques often do not pick up some kinds of injury.
"These results are extremely exciting because the technology is not overly complicated and, as a result, can move from the bench to the battlefield," says Dr Charles Marmar, professor and chairman of Psychiatry at NYU Langone, and executive director of NYU Langone’s Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center.
The study led by Dr Uzma Samadani looked at 169 American veterans, 12 of whom had weaknesses in the nerves that moved their eyes or brain swelling near those nerves, which affect eye movements. Participants watched music videos for just under four minutes (220 seconds in total) as doctors measured their ratio of vertical to side-to-side eye movements. The movements of the 157 healthy veterans were classified as normal but the 12 with injuries showed abnormal movements correlating to the nerve that was damaged, according to the study.
Essentially, such automated eye movements provide clues to the function of the nervous system and a normal range of eye movements tends to imply good function of cranial nerves. By zeroing in on where the eye is less able to move, treating physicians may be able to work out which part of the brain is damaged in injured patients.
“One of the reasons that clinical trials for treatment of brain injury have failed in the past is that brain injury is hard to classify and quantitate with existing technologies," says Dr Samadani. "This invention suggests a potential new method for classifying and quantitating the extent of injury."
The study was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.