When we think about virtual reality (VR), the first thing comes to our mind will be the latest technology that permits gamers a sensory experience of playing video games.
However, scientists at the Donald K. Johnson Eye Center at Toronto Western Hospital have a different use for it. They are developing a new test that could diagnose glaucoma in its early stages.
The illusion - where a large moving scene in a movie can make the viewer feel like he or she is also moving - is called vection and the effect is possible because of peripheral vision.
"Glaucoma is an eye disease that first affects peripheral vision, but most people don't realize their eye sight is impaired until their central vision is affected. By using technology that engages an individual's peripheral vision, we hope to develop a test that detects glaucoma at an earlier stage so an intervention can be prescribed sooner," says Taylor Brin, a graduate student working in the lab of Dr. Martin Steinbach.
The research team at the Center has already published positive results using their own device to stimulate vection.
Participants in the study sat in front of a screen while a scene of moving dots played on it. Individuals with healthy vision reported feeling vection and in 18 patients with mild glaucoma, vection was either impaired or completely absent. This is because these patients' sensation of motion while viewing the screen was weak or absent.
"Currently, 'early' detection of glaucoma isn't actually occurring in its earliest stage. Standard visual tests don't detect it until the retina has lost a large amount of its neurons. We think that a test focusing on measuring vection might fill this gap," says Dr. Martin Steinbach, Senior Scientist at TWRI and the principal investigator in the study.