Post in the London Evening Standard, Monday 26 June 2017
Doctors today revealed they had treated a patient with “dancing eyes” by fitting magnets to his eye sockets.
The patient, a man in his late forties, developed nystagmus — constant uncontrolled movement of the eyes — after developing the rare cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His visual impairment was so severe that he lost his job.
A magnet was implanted in the bone at the bottom of each eye socket, and smaller magnets were stitched into the extraocular muscles that control the eye’s movement.
The strength of each magnet’s force was sufficient to overcome the involuntary movement caused by nystagmus but not enough to prevent the patient moving his eyes as normal.
Today, after four years of follow-up checks, doctors reported that the improvements in his sight had been maintained, to such a degree that the man had been able to return to work. There had been “substantial improvement” in daily activities, such as reading and watching television, they said. Lead researcher Dr Parashkev Nachev, of UCL Institute of Neurology, said: “Our study opens a new field of using magnetic implants to optimise the movement of body parts.
“Until now, mechanical approaches have been elusive because of the need to stop the involuntary eye movements without preventing the natural, intentional movements of shifting gaze.”
The condition affects about one in 400 people. It normally starts in childhood but can be triggered by disease. The eye movements are usually side to side but can also be up and down or in a circular motion.
It is caused by a problem with the way the eye sends messages back to the brain or how parts of the brain which deal with eye movement make sense of the information, according to the RNIB.
The patient study, published in Ophthalmology, tells how the researchers decided to put the idea of placing a magnetic prosthesis behind the eyes into practice for the first time.
The magnets were encased in titanium, which can be safely embedded internally, enabling the magnetic force to be applied without causing damage. But the researchers warned that magnetic implants would not be not suitable for patients who require regular MRI scans.