According to the Merriam-Webster.Com, virtual reality is “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.”
Video game developers are embracing virtual reality as a way to make the game playing experience as real as possible. Researchers, however, are looking into using virtual reality as a way to detect glaucoma. Researchers at Duke University have developed a portable brain-computer interface, called nGoggle, that assesses visual field loss in persons at risk for developing glaucoma.
While current screening tests measure intraocular pressure, an important indication of glaucoma severity, not every instance of the disease presents with high intraocular pressure. Therefore screening only on the basis of pressure can lead to not catching the disease in 80 percent of those who have it. The reason for this is that many persons develop optic nerve damage from glaucoma at low levels of intraocular pressure. In addition, pressure fluctuates from day to day, so unlike glucose monitoring, one can’t pick a standard time to measure intraocular pressure.
Eye care professionals use standard automated perimetry (SAP) as a way to monitor the progression of glaucoma. This involves a patient clicking a button when lights are shown in their peripheral vision. There is a drawback to this test, namely that years of annual testing would be needed to see the disease progression. While upping the frequency of testing is an option, not everyone who needs this test is able to take it more than once a year, either due to mobility issues or issues with insurance.
That’s where nGoggle comes in. This device standardizes testing by objectively measuring the visual field via brain activity in response to signals received by the eyes. The system can get enough information to analyze how well each eye works across the patient’s field of vision, not just peripheral. Less activity may indicate vision loss due to glaucoma.
The device is portable and transmits information wirelessly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. In its initial testing, the device showed greater accuracy than the SAP. In another study, it was able to detect damage in the eyes of those with preperimetric glaucoma. This technology can also be used for assessing cognitive function by creating virtual reality tasks to monitor brain activity.
So, the next time you are playing a VR game, know that virtual reality isn’t all fun and games, it can be used to detect eye diseases and assess cognitive function as well.