Eye tracker: improving diagnosis of brain tumours in children
Children’s charity Action Medical Research is celebrating the launch of a new eyesight device which could improve diagnosis and medical management of brain tumours and other serious illness.
Researchers in Edinburgh, awarded a grant from Action Medical Research in 2010, have developed a novel system that uses infa-red light to track the movement of the eye, to diagnose visual field defects in children. A prototype is already in use at the Edinburgh Sick Kids hospital and the manufacturers hope it will be available in the next few months for purchase by children’s hospitals and eye hospitals throughout the UK.
Visual field defects can restrict a child’s field of view so that they may, for example, find it difficult to walk without risk of tripping over. Such eyesight problems can be a sign that a child has a serious illness, such as a brain tumour. Visual field defects may also give rise to difficulties with learning since vision and learning are closely linked, especially in young children.
Children who have had a stroke, a head injury or meningitis are at special risk of suffering visual field defects, as are children with cerebral palsy, those born prematurely, and some children who are prescribed certain medications, including one for the treatment for epilepsy.
The £135,562 grant from Action Medical Research is contributing to the testing of the new device.* The new system is set to overcome the current clinical problem of using the current tests for children which are inaccurate, or tests which have been designed for adults, which are unsuitable.
Professor Robert Minns, lead researcher and Child Neurology expert at the University of Edinburgh said: “Until now we’ve had no way to measure precisely the visual fields of young children and this new system has made it possible even for children less than one year of age.”
To date it has been very difficult to diagnose visual field defects in young children, because when using the common tests designed for adults, it is difficult for a child to understand what is required of them. They are quite restrictive and involve sitting very still without moving the head for several minutes. Even older children can find them difficult.
Children are asked to watch a cartoon icon on a TV screen and noises can also be programmed to hold their attention. The device, named i2eye by the manufacturer, uses infa-red lights to track eye movements. A computer maps the child’s visual fields and measures the extent of any defects – ie any gaps in their peripheral vision – using information from what they have seen and what they have missed on the TV screen.
The researchers are continuing to validate the performance of the device by using it to assess the eyesight of young adults and at least 100 children, some with normal vision and some with visual field defects.
The new system could improve the accuracy of diagnosis of life-threatening illnesses in children and also help in monitoring the effectiveness of treatments like chemotherapy for certain rare types of brain tumours.
An accurate diagnosis of a child’s visual field defects could bring many other benefits too. It could help parents, teachers and therapists to understand what sort of support the child needs at home and at school. This could be particularly helpful for children who are experiencing learning difficulties.
The i2eye device is manufactured by the Edinburgh Bioquarter, an organisation set up to make the most of medical research, who are partnered by the University of Edinburgh.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
*This project is also supported by a generous grant from The R S Macdonald Charitable Trust and the Mackay Bequest.
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Action Medical Research - the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children - is celebrating 60 years of vital research in 2012. We’ve been funding medical breakthroughs since we began in 1952 and have spent more than £100 million on research that has helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more. Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:
• tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
• helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
• targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.
But there is still so much more to do. Make 2012 a special year and help fund more life-changing research for some of the UK’s sickest babies and children.