Eye-tracking device may be able to identify dangerous brain swelling

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For many people who experience a traumatic brain injury, the bump to the head is just the start of their problems. The first response of an injured brain is to increase blood flow to the brain, but this causes swelling which can push the brain against the skull and cause even more damage.

This “intracranial pressure” (ICP) can slow recovery time, worsen symptoms, or even lead to long-term disability or death if it is not treated immediately. The problem is, the best way to monitor and identify heightened intracranial pressure involved drilling through the skull to impact an invasive pressure-detecting device.

According to a new report published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, this could possibly change in the near future. If validated, the report suggests an eye-tracking device called EyeBOXCNS™ could provide a non-invasive way to monitor brain pressure and identify any negative effects.

“A significant percentage of people with traumatic brain injuries are not properly treated because there has not been a way to definitively diagnose the extent of injury,” said Uzma Samadani, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota and co-founder of Oculogica, Inc., which developed EyeBOXCNS™.

“Because the nerves in the eye are exquisitely sensitive to changes in intracranial pressure, they serve as excellent early indicators of a problem,” Dr. Samadani said. “Developing a way to detect abnormal eye movement following brain injury, but before symptoms appear, represents an important clinical advance.”

The device uses proprietary hardware and software designed to closely monitor eye movements while a patient views a short film clip. According to the researchers, these eye movements are associated with specific neurologic functions that allow the device to quantify the effects of ICP.

To prove this, the team compared measurements collected via traditional ICP measurement devices against data from the eye-tracking device. The results showed that decreased function of the nerves responsible for moving the eye as measured by the EyeBOXCNS™ was closely related to the readings from invasive ICP measurements.

Following the latest positive results for the EyeBOXCNS™, Oculogica says it plans to begin the process of getting the device approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The process could take years, as the device has to undergo thorough clinical validation to be approved. However, if it receives clearance it would be the first eye-tracking device to be approved for wide use by the FDA.

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