Implanted magnets successfully treat involuntary eye movement disorder nystagmus

In a new medical breakthrough, reported in the journal Ophthalmology, doctors have successfully implanted magnets within a patient’s eyes to correct a condition called “nystagmus” also called “dancing eyes”.

Magnetic Oculomotor Prosthetics for Acquired Nystagmus - Prosthesis shown in red. Image Credit: Dr Parashkev Nachev
Magnetic Oculomotor Prosthetics for Acquired Nystagmus - Prosthesis shown in red. Image Credit: Dr Parashkev Nachev

Nystagmus leads to continuous and non purposeful movements of the eyes. This leads to flickering of the eyes and affects 1 in 1,000 people. There are no known treatments for this condition.

Now surgeons have used two tiny magnets and implanted them into each eye. These magnets could help reduce the movements. The two magnets interacted with each other to stop the involuntary movements of the eyes and thus correcting the nystagmus. According to experts this could be a breakthrough in research for use of magnets to control involuntary movements of other body parts as well.

The study was led by University College London and the University of Oxford and is considered to be a first of its kind. This was the first oculomotor prosthesis that was ever used. An oculomotor prosthesis is one that could help control the movement of the eyes. Lead author Dr Parashkev Nachev, of the UCL's Institute of Neurology explained that nystagmus has numerous causes and there are a number of reasons why they occur. Most of these arise from the brain and central nervous system. This means that drug treatment is difficult to develop and the ones that could help have failed. This case was treated with the aim that the eye muscles would be focused on directly he explained. Till date this was not successful because any prosthetic within the eye would also impair the normal shifting movements of the eyes. The prosthetic would stop the dancing eyes but in turn leave the eyes fixed and non-moving he said. This did the trick and these magnets now allow normal movements but prevent excessive movements.

This patient was in his late forties and developed nystagmus as a result of Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was facing difficulties in day to day life including a job loss due to his condition. The prosthetic was then developed for him. Professor Quentin Pankhurst, of UCL, who led the design of the prosthesis explained that the force that is required to make a voluntary normal movement of the eye is more than that used by the nystagmus in its involuntary movement. This worked to the researchers’ advantage. They needed very small magnets that could just stop the nystagmus without immobilizing the eyes. Two magnets were implanted in each eye. One was attached to the bone at the bottom of the eye socket and the other was attached to one of the extraocular muscles. The magnets were encased in titanium. The surgical procedure was held in two sittings and led by Professor Geoff Rose and Mr David Verity at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Over the next four years the patient made remarkable recovery and return to daily life. He has paid employment and can read and watch television without any difficulty. More research would be necessary say the team of researchers before this could be used for more patients.

Nystagmus facts

Nystagmus is a condition where there are involuntary and uncontrolled movements of the eye balls. The movement could be side-to-side, up-and-down or even in circles. The causes are multiple and most of the time the cause cannot be detected. It can be corrected only if the underlying condition is adequately treated. Nystagmus is highly disconcerting and although in many cases does not affect vision, it may lead to severe impairment of life. Nystagmus is the commonest type of visual impairment among children.

Those who need regular MRI scans however would not be able to undergo this procedure explain the researchers. At present recruitment is on for a larger study with these prostheses led by Professor Rose at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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Comments

  1. Aiden Eades Aiden Eades United Kingdom says:

    So, now that the pioneering surgery has been completed, how long until something like this enters the mainstream?  I'd quite literally kill to get my nystagmus under control.  My still spot is so far off to the left half the time it looks like I'm looking at a wall rather than the TV.

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