In a breakthrough research conducted at City University London, identification of diseases such as glaucoma is possible by looking at maps of people's eye movement while they watched a film.
The research could help speed up diagnosis, enabling clinicians to identify the disease earlier and allowing treatment to begin before the onset of permanent damage.
Affecting around 65 million people worldwide, glaucoma describes a group of eye conditions that result in progressive damage to the optic nerve which connects the retina to the brain, causing people to gradually lose vision.
The team led by Professor David Crabb along with Dr Nicholas Smith and Dr Haogang Zhu, compared a group of 32 elderly people with healthy vision to 44 patients with a clinical diagnosis of glaucoma. Both groups underwent standard vision examinations and disease severity was also measured for the group with clinical diagnoses.
Participants were then shown three unmodified TV and film clips on a computer while an eye-tracking device recorded all eye movement, and particularly the direction in which people were looking. These data were then used to produce detailed maps which enabled the diagnosis of glaucoma.
Professor Crabb said that once the damage is done it cannot be reversed, so early diagnosis would be vital for identifying a disease which would get more prevalent as the population ages.
The paper is published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.