Neurological diseases amount to 28 % of the overall disease burden in Europe, but identifying conditions such as the early stages of dementia is not easy. More effective diagnostics tools hold the potential to greatly improve treatment.
Diagnosing dementia usually involves a lengthy structured interview with a neurologist and may also include a PET scan or spinal tap. These options are reliable, but expensive and time-consuming for patients and clinicians alike. “Often a diagnosis is not attempted until symptoms are clear, by which point it’s too late to do anything,” explains Laszlo Bax, MindTrack project coordinator. “In the case of mild cognitive impairment, our test takes five minutes and is 93 % accurate.” Braingaze, the company Bax co-founded, has developed a diagnostic tool that uses eye-tracking technology to identify a range of neurological conditions. “We started out with ADHD in adolescents and found clear differences in specific eye movement patterns that reflect cognitive processes,” notes Bax. Following this, the company explored neurodegeneration disorders, and confirmed they could detect similar differences in eye movement patterns between healthy and affected adults.
EU funding supported the phase one business development of MindTrack. “With this funding we got a better understanding of how this would fit into clinical practice,” adds Bax. It also supported continued collaboration with corporations, SMEs, clinicians and hospitals, he says: “This has been and will continue to be an ecosystem effort.” Bax describes the games as ‘deceptively simple’: one requires patients to stare at a frog while other animals appear to the left or right of the screen. A tadpole demands a response from the patient, while a fish does not. Each challenge lasts a few seconds; 120 of them in all. “You need to focus on the centre, but focus your cognitive attention on the side,” explains Bax. “The detachment of these two tasks triggers the eye movement we’re interested in.”
If successful, the technique will allow healthcare professionals beyond neurologists to make diagnoses of cognitive disorders, improving access to treatment. “Our goal is to offer an objective detection of cognitive disorders, with ease of use and also low cost,” notes Bax. “Now we need to develop a database to train the AI algorithms to automatically detect the illness, and we need to use additional data to convince clinicians that what we have works.” With EU support, Braingaze was also able to trial the technology as a software-only tool – which if successful could mean that the test could be offered through commercial smartphones and tablets, bringing the cost down further and greatly improving access. “We’re now elaborating that for phase two,” says Bax. “We have shown it can be done, what remains is moving from the principle to a product that works on all hardware platforms.”
MindTrack, Braingaze, eye, movement, diagnosis, dementia, brain, disease, frog