Researchers Using Eye Movement to Diagnose Disorders that Include Parkinson’s

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A new method to improve treatment of various disorders, including include Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, has been discovered by Queen’s University researchers. The new process developed by Douglas Munoz and Jay Jantz aids in the diagnosis of basal ganglia disorders using the patient’s eye movement.

A university release describes the basal ganglia as being located toward the centre of the brain and controls a variety of functions including voluntary motor movements, learning, routine behaviours and emotion.

Developing an age-related basal ganglia disease such as Parkinson’s is increasingly likely as average lifespans increase, according to Dr. Munoz, who heads the Queen’s Eye Movement Laboratory.

“These profoundly affect the lives of patients and their families. Despite this, treatment options and early-stage biomarkers are still limited by gaps in our knowledge of the brain regions involved,” said Dr Munoz. “This means a disease will often be only diagnosed in its middle or late stages after extensive brain damage, when therapeutic interventions are much less effective.”


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The current research shows how the basal ganglia network influences eye movements during different behaviours, which adds critical support to the development of eye movement biomarkers to probe diseases in basal ganglia function. Dr. Munoz says analyzing eye movement enables more accurate and extensive biomarkers to increase early interventions of diseases such as Parkinson’s. It has also uncovered critical new insight into how these brain areas actually function.

“Basal ganglia disorders are some of the most widespread neurodegenerative diseases in the world, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and several others,” said Dr. Jantz. “We discovered that there is a fundamental switch in how these brain areas communicate that occurs during different types of behaviour. This may explain why some basal ganglia treatments can have specific side effects particular to some behaviours and everyday tasks.”

Dr. Jantz, as the lead scientist at Neurable Inc., is heading up a research team that is developing innovative techniques that utilize virtual reality environments and brain-computer interface technologies.

Dr. Munoz, Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience, is simultaneously leading national and international studies that are collecting eye movement behaviours from numerous patient groups to develop new eye movement biomarkers of basal ganglia dysfunction.

This research was recently published in Nature Communications.


Photo: Giuliamar (cc)