Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities are trying to answer this important question. They are conducting a large study of eye-movements, neuropsychology and mental health. The aim is to identify eye movement patterns that may help with diagnosis of individuals with common major mental illnesses. Unlike other branches of medicine there are currently no tests to help with the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and recurrent depression. Diagnosis is based solely on patient history, symptoms and observed behaviour. This means that diagnoses can be unreliable and numerous patients are not getting access to the most effective and correct treatment.

Although it has been known for some decades that individuals with specific mental disorders have abnormal eye movements these were not seen as clinically useful. Recent work looking at people with a variety of psychiatric disorders suggests that a series of tests based on simple eye movement recordings made by a fast camera are very good at differentiating between some of the major adult psychiatric disorders. Eye movements, amongst them ultra-rapid ‘saccades’ that occur many times per second, analysed using computer algorithms detected common patterns in different illnesses with exceptional accuracy of around 90%. The algorithm was better able to distinguish psychiatric disorders than any blood, radiology or gene based tests which we were aware of.

The eye-tracking study
Our new study aims to recruit large numbers of individuals with most of the main forms of psychiatric disorders including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and recurrent depression, as well as healthy controls. We aim to replicate our previous findings in these new patients. If the results are positive, we plan to develop the technology to assist in diagnosis of major psychiatric disorders. This has the potential to improve patient healthcare and wellbeing and will satisfy an enormous unmet need and reduce costs in NHS UK and worldwide.

Participants will be asked to come the Kennedy Tower at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital at a time of their convenience. After a brief interview the volunteers will be requested to sit in chair in front of a computer and view some pictures. While they view the pictures, their eye movements will be recorded by a small camera mounted below the screen. There will also be some tasks of following a moving target on the screen. A member of the research team will then conduct some neuropsychological tests, e.g. examining memory, and ask them to complete some short mental health questionnaires. Volunteers should expect to stay in the department for approximately 3 hours. They may decline to do any of the tasks without specifying a reason and without this affecting their future medical care.

If you would like to learn more about the study and consider taking part please contact the researchers, either Foteini Oikonomitsiou at 0131 537 6656, or e-mail f.oikonomitsiou@ed.ac.uk or Barbara Duff at 0131 537 6675, or email barbara.duff@ed.ac.uk

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