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UB researcher employs eye-tracking technology to detect neurological disorders


Mon, Jan 20th 2020 11:25 am

By the University at Buffalo

A University at Buffalo biomedical engineer is gaining recognition outside the U.S. for his work using high-tech devices to diagnose and ameliorate neurological conditions.

Anirban Dutta, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering, has been in India since Dec. 27, participating in a collaborative project that pairs a virtual reality-based exergaming platform with neuroimaging-guided noninvasive electrical stimulation.

Exergaming – technology-driven physical activity, such as video game play, that requires participants to be physically active — may be beneficial for people in the transition stage between normal aging and dementia, called mild cognitive impairment. The project uses eye-tracking technology to detect mild cognitive impairment in test subjects.

Nature India wrote about the eye-tracking technology on Dec. 30.

The technology, in conjunction with a battery of cognitive tasks, is nicknamed “MindEye.” It uses a low-cost infrared camera to detect subtle changes in pupil dilation and eye movement. These changes indicate cognitive impairment, which often begins years before other Alzheimer’s symptoms are visible. These changes, called saccadic eye movements, increase as the disease progresses.

MindEye is a collaboration between Dutta, Uttama Lahiri at Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar and Abhijit Das at AMRI, Kolkata. The international collaboration is funded by a Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC) grant from the Indian government. The three scientists hold a patent for the eye-tracking instrument used in the project.

The Nature India article notes the technology’s low cost and ease of delivery in a community setting sets it apart from other diagnostic tools. At the time the article was published, approximately 1,700 people had been recruited for the clinical trial, which is being conducted in India’s West Bengal state.

“We are applying big-data approaches to identify a biomarker based on the large dataset (more than 400 already) that we have in India,” Dutta said. “Such a large dataset would not have been possible without our collaboration with India. This dataset provided multiple features that can be combined to get a good specificity for Alzheimer's.”

Eye movements are a critical aspect of sensory perception. Because the eyes are connected to a vast number of brain areas, the ocular system is vulnerable to various neurological disorders, research has shown. Therefore, studying eye movements can be useful in detecting neurological conditions.

MindEye leverages a gaze assessment tool called “SmartEye,” which was developed in collaboration with Lahiri from 2013-15, when Dutta was a research scientist at the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (INRIA).

Dutta and Lahiri conducted a study using the eye-tracking technology on stroke patients that evaluated eye fixation, smooth movement and blinking in response to various visual stimuli. That research found that gaze-related indicators in response to various visual stimuli could serve as biomarkers for stroke assessment.

“A simple-to-use, clinically valid system for objectively assessing the oculomotor function can thus bring a paradigm shift in diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders,” stated the research, which was published in 2016 in IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering.

Dutta is currently collaborating with Machiko Tomita, Ph.D., clinical professor of rehabilitation science in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, to combine eye-tracking with portable neuroimaging to improve the specificity for early diagnosis of dementia. Early diagnosis will allow early intervention with exergaming, which may prevent and control a patient’s transition to dementia.

Dutta and his Ph.D. student, Zeynab Rezaee, are also collaborating with Sue Ann Sisto, Ph.D., chair of the department of rehabilitation science at UB, to develop noninvasive brain stimulation as an adjunct to exergaming.

Dutta has more than 14 years’ experience in bringing neuromodulation devices – devices that normalize nervous tissue function through the use of electrical stimulation or chemical agents – out of the lab and into a clinical setting. He has been at UB since 2016.

UB’s department of biomedical engineering is part of both the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Dutta also is affiliated with UB’s Community for Global Health Equity.

Dutta will return to Buffalo on Jan. 27. He plans to go back to India this summer with Lisa Vahapoglu, Ph.D., J.D., program coordinator for the Community for Global Health Equity.

Along with Sisto and colleagues in India, they prepared and were awarded a SPARC grant to further “convergence” research related to neuroimaging-guided non-invasive electrical stimulation. 

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