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   Dec 09

The clue is in the eyes: British scientists develop ground-breaking camera test to diagnose serious mental illnesses

Test can diagnose mental health problems by analysing eye movements

Schizophrenia, bipolar and depression patients all look at pictures differently

British scientists have developed a ground-breaking camera test that can diagnose a range of serious mental health problems by analysing patients’ eye movements.

The revolutionary technology works using a theory more than a century old that abnormal ways of looking at objects are associated with psychosis.

The team behind it believe that it can help to differentiate schizophrenia from bipolar disorder and severe depression.

Face the problem: The camera tests the eye movements of mental health patients and will help differentiate schizophrenia from bipolar disorder and severe depression, the team says

Researchers used special cameras to track the eye movements of patients as they looked at pictures on a computer screen.

Patients with schizophrenia can be seen to explore images less fully than those who do not suffer from the condition.

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They rest their gaze for longer on certain points but look at fewer points on the picture overall, according to the researchers.

For patients with bipolar disorder or severe depression, there are more subtle differences.

These three conditions have similar symptoms, which make diagnosis using traditional methods difficult.

Testing times: Patients with schizophrenia explore images less fully and rest their gaze for longer on certain points but look at fewer points on the picture overall

‘Recent advancements in eye-tracking technology have enabled the use of eye movement abnormalities as reliable markers to assist diagnosis of these disorders,’ says Madhu Nair, the technology entrepreneur hoping to bring the technology to market.

He is working with Aberdeen University’s Dr Philip Benson and its Chair of Mental Health, Professor David St Clair.

‘It is a step change for psychiatry, in which brain scans and DNA techniques have so far failed to produce results that will help in diagnosing patients.

‘The eye test produces results with 95 per cent accuracy within 30 minutes for conditions that could otherwise take several years to diagnose.’

Further studies are needed before the test is approved for widespread use. But Nair says: ‘Patients should be able to access these tests through their healthcare providers within the next few years.’

The innovation has been welcomed by Professor Nick Craddock of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who says: ‘Laboratory tests that can help in prompt and accurate diagnosis of severe mental illness will be immensely valuable.

‘This link between abnormal eye movement and severe mental illness warrants more research. These disorders have physical effects in the brain and body, and are not just “all in the mind”.’

Source: Daily Mail

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