Nystagmus is a condition involving an involuntary flickering of the eyes. Resulting in reduced or limited vision, this condition that affects almost one in 400 people, and is euphemistically referred to as "dancing eyes". A new procedure to treat the condition has been developed involving implanting magnets behind a person's eyes to stabilize the uncontrollable eye movements.

The research team, composed of academics from University College London and the University of Oxford, focused on finding a way to control movement of the eye muscles to manage the symptoms from this condition. The exact mechanisms that cause nystagmus are still not known, but the team concentrated on developing a prothesis that used magnetic force to slow the flickering eye-muscle movement.

The technique involves implanting two magnets, both encased in titanium, one on the bone at the bottom of the eye socket, and a second smaller magnet sutured to one of the extraocular muscles that controls eye movement.

"Fortunately the force used for voluntary eye movements is greater than the force causing the flickering movements," explains Professor Quentin Pankhurst, lead prosthetic designer, "so we only needed quite small magnets, minimizing the risk of immobilizing the eye."

The procedure was successfully completed on a patient in his late 40s, and over four years of post-operative observation it was shown to substantially improve his visual acuity without impacting the functional movement of his eyes. This is the first time researchers have successfully implanted a prosthetic device that can control eye movement.

"Our study opens a new field of using magnetic implants to optimize the movement of body parts," says lead author of the study Dr Parashkev Nachev.

The team notes that this type of prosthesis will not be effective for all patients suffering from nystagmus, especially those that undergo regular MRI scans, but further research is set to be conducted to determine the specific occasions this procedure would be most effective.

The team's study was published in the journal Ophthalmology.