Virtual Reality For Remote Diagnosis of Neurological Conditions

Lead researchers: Associate Professor James Welsh (Engineering), Professor Alan Brictha (Health) and Dr Tom Wellings (Neurologist, Hunter New England Local Health District)

Partners: Hunter New England Health

The clinical assessment of eye (oculomotor) movements is important for the assessment of a range of neurological disorders, from concussion to stroke, neurodegenerative diseases and disorders of balance and the vestibular system. Remarkably, an accurate oculomotor examination has a higher sensitivity and specificity for detecting stroke than an MRI. However, detailed oculomotor and vestibular testing requires specialised training and has been difficult to conduct outside of the laboratory. As a result, very few definitive tests are available for the diagnosis of balance disorders and those that are can be costly, time-consuming, and still require expert knowledge. There is a critical shortage of consulting neurologists with eye movement expertise, even in metropolitan areas, and access to this expertise in rural and remote areas is virtually non-existent.

A team of researchers from the University of Newcastle is working to develop a VR-based software system to support the diagnosis of balance related neurological conditions. Used in conjunction with eye-tracking VR headsets, the system will enable the collection and analysis of the eye movement data that is necessary for clinical assessment. This solution will enable sophisticated eye movement testing by non-expert medical staff.

VR headsets will be adapted to the clinical environment for monitoring real-time eye movements while simultaneously presenting virtual reality images. The device will probe the reflexive eye movements under expanded testing conditions that would normally be difficult to replicate in the real environment. For example, moving an image across the retina twice as fast as the head is moving in the opposite direction would mean that visual adaptation, a sensitive neurological process, could be easily tested outside the laboratory.

The clinician end-user will be able to use this software and device to record eye movements in the clinic, and potentially by the bedside, including in emergency departments. The portability of the system would facilitate unprecedented access to analysis of eye movements and vestibular function.