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Magnets help stopping involuntary eye movement

Posted June 27, 2017

There is a condition called nystagmus, which makes people’s eyes move around involuntarily. It sounds like it should be annoying, but it is much more than that. It affects one person in 400 and can be a reason for disability. In fact, it does reduce person‘s ability to see and focus. However, now scientists from UCL and University of Oxford invented a new way to treat nystagmus and it involves magnets in the brain.

Nystagmus is a condition making eyes wonder about involuntarily. It damages eyesight and can be the cause of disability. Image credit: Laitr Keiows via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Explained simply, scientists developed a new set of implants, which are magnetic. When placed into eye socket beneath the eyes they resolve effects of nystagmus, allowing the person to control his eye movements easily. It sounds like a simple solution, but the task was everything but simple. Mechanical solutions like this one were not even considered for a long time, because scientists had to find a way to prevent only involuntary movement of the eyeball, while allowing the person to move it around by himself.

Nystagmus actually can have several different causes, all of them being in the central nervous system. This, of course, makes it very difficult to treat, but scientists managed to solve it by thinking outside the box and resolving to a mechanical solution. Not only they developed the implants, but they also tested them with an actual human being – a patient, who developed nystagmus refractory to conventional treatment in his late 40s due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This man lost his job because of the disability.

The implants are magnetic. One magnet is implanted on the orbital floor (the bone at the bottom of the eye socket), and the smaller one – in the one of the extraocular muscles. In essence, these magnets, which were encased in titanium so that they could stay safely in human body, prevent eye from moving if the person is not putting efforts into it. The patient recovered quickly after surgery and said he is feeling much better, although his sight has other conditions too that cannot be easily fixed.

Of course, since the natural causes of nystagmus are not fully understood, it cannot be treated – magnetic implants only treat the effect of the condition and not condition itself. Implants could not be used with patients, who have other problems, requiring occasional MRI scans. However, scientists are hopeful that small magnetic implants can help many people to keep working and enjoying their lives. At least until a better treatment is developed.

This is quite interesting. Solution is quite simple, yet effective, but it does not treat the condition. Muscle simple cannot move by itself, because flickering force is not strong enough to break magnetic bond. Until the cause of nystagmus is found, this treatment is good enough.


Source: UCL

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