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Video games could help diagnose ‘lazy eye’

Prototype devices raise hopes of emerging treatments for condition.

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Lazy eye is the most common cause of sight loss in children

Video games could be used to create screening tools that detect ‘lazy eye’ in children after two prototype devices have been developed in Scotland.

Consultants from the University of Strathclyde are testing the idea of using gaming technology to look for eye problems in adolescents who are too young to follow the instructions of a conventional eye test.

The two prototypes that have been developed will mainly be used to diagnose Amblyopia – also known as ‘lazy eye’ – which is the leading cause of sight loss in children.

The first device uses bespoke analysis software along with a computer screen webcam to monitor where the subject’s eye is looking. The webcam remains focused on them, with the computer analysing if the image has been seen.

The second instrument acts relatively similar but uses a virtual reality headset instead.

Adult and child volunteers wore blurring lenses to simulate visual defects during the testing, with both devices able to show that the image on screen had been detected.

Digital technologies are more present in healthcare than ever before and this theme continues when it comes to eye health.

Health Tech World recently reported on a new AI-supported eye test from University College London that has the ability to detect eye disease three years before symptoms start.

Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is continuing this after they secured £1.1 million in funding to develop an AI-powered clinical reasoning tool for eye health services.

Amblyopia affects around one in 50 children in the UK and it mainly occurs when the nerve pathway from one eye does not develop effectively during childhood. This causes the brain to heavily rely on one eye leading to the other to becoming weaker.

Tests for this condition currently need to be administered by a specialist in a hospital setting and are typically only given to children aged older than three as they have the ability to follow instructions.

This new testing method could not only help those under this age, but it could pave the way for quick and simple mass screening programmes.

Dr Iain Livingstone, one of the project’s developers, said: “children with amblyopia may struggle to see clearly and have difficulty with depth perception. If left untreated, vision may never reach normal levels, leading to lifelong problems.

“Early diagnosis is crucial because the younger the child can be treated, ideally in early infancy, the greater the chance of a successful outcome.

“Children who have not yet learned to speak cannot follow instructions so the standard eye tests, which involve presenting a child with a printed card or paddle, rely on the child’s ‘looking response’ to determine whether or not they have seen the target pattern.”

Lecturer in biomedical engineering at the University of Strathclyde, Dr Mario Giardini who is also a contributor, said: “As human beings we’re hard wired to recognise faces and high contrast objects.

“We know that from a few hours after birth a baby will turn their eyes to a high contrast object or a face, so we wanted to explore how paediatric vision testing protocols can be transformed using digital technologies, where there is no operator to distract the child.

“Our method for vision testing in infants can be fully automated at a low cost and doesn’t require operator skills, which means it can be used for amblyopia testing in schools and other community settings, with a potential massive impact to test children both in the UK and worldwide.”

Funding for the project came from Sight Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust with those involved looking to have the test finished within the next two years.

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