Learning the steps to dancing eyes

From magnets to virtual reality, researchers are using inventive methods in attempts to treat the involuntary eye movements of nystagmus


A UK researcher is using virtual reality to create a clearer view of the world for those with involuntary eye movements.

University of Sheffield senior orthoptics lecturer, Dr Helen Griffiths, told OT that her research team is developing a virtual reality application to offer individuals with oscillopsia a more stable image.

Oscillopsia is a visual disturbance where objects within the visual field appear to oscillate. It occurs in acquired nystagmus.

Dr Griffiths and colleagues will use eye tracking within a virtual reality headset to account for involuntary eye movements and improve vision within a virtual environment.

“The condition can be debilitating and we hope to produce a tool that can offer them some relief. If successful, this could eventually lead to a solution so that people with oscillopsia can perform tasks that would otherwise be very difficult,” Dr Griffiths elaborated.

Researchers have previously developed a mobile phone app that simulates the symptoms experienced by individuals with nystagmus.

Dr Griffiths said this technology was met with a “raft of support and gratitude” from people with nystagmus.

“This spurs us on to try and help a subset of these patients that suffer with oscillopsia,” she emphasised.

Magnetic solution

Researchers at University College London, Moorfields Eye Hospital, and the University of Oxford are developing magnetic implants to treat nystagmus.

The treatment involves implanting magnets in the orbital floor of each eye socket, and stitching another magnet to the point of insertion of extraocular muscles that control eye movement.

After a man in his late 40s was successfully treated with the magnets, researchers have initiated a clinical trial involving up to 12 patients with nystagmus.

Dr Parashkev Nachev, from University College London, told OT that the polymorphous nature of nystagmus made it a challenging area for researchers.

Another hurdle in addressing the condition is that the most common form of nystagmus is developmental.

“The whole system is self-modified by the problem and rectifying it is therefore much harder,” Dr Nachev explained.

He highlighted that there is a tendency for researchers to take a reductive approach to nystagmus.

“We have to be more left-field in the ideas that we develop,” he shared.

“We are all looking for simple neural mechanisms we can modify with a single drug. The problem here is that the underlying biology is so complex that no simple neural solution could ever work.”

“It is like someone insisting on understanding the behaviour of sand dunes by counting all the grains of sand. It is wonderfully principled and mechanistic, but it could never work in practice,” Dr Nachev concluded.