Using eye movements to detect and monitor age-related eye conditions

Research details

  • Type of funding: Project Grant
  • Grant Holder: Professor David Crabb
  • Institute: City, University of London
  • Region: London
  • Start date: December 2012
  • End Date: July 2014
  • Priority:
  • Eye Category:


Eye movements are a continuous and ever-present part of vision. Our eyes can move smoothly when we’re tracking a moving object or they can make quick jumps from looking at one place to another (call saccadic eye movements or just saccades). In between saccades are ‘fixations’, where our eyes are stable.

A sequence of saccades and fixations is known as a ‘scanpath’. Recording a scanpath while someone is watching a film or TV programme could potentially reveal an ‘eye movement fingerprint’ that would be unique to each person. The aim of this project is to show proof of the concept that eye movement fingerprints exist and that the scanpaths from people with age-related eye conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are different to scanpaths made by healthy eyes.

Prof Crabb has already collected scanpaths from 100 older people and is developing ways to analyse the information statistically. At the end of the project is aiming to know whether eye movements made while watching a screen can be a ‘biomarker’ for eye conditions. If so, ‘Eyecatcher’ could go on to become a new way of detecting and monitoring eye health.
  • Scientific summary

    Proof of Concept for “Eyecatcher”: Detecting and monitoring age-related visual disease.

    Monitoring of elderly patients with visual disease like glaucoma is done in a clinic with tests that people find difficult to do (perimetry); a system likely unsustainable in the future given the ‘epidemic’ of age-related chronic visual disease. Instead of relying on infrequent difficult tests in a clinic, focus for monitoring should shift to capturing health-related data acquired as part of a person’s ordinary daily activities.

    People make several eye movements per second, and where they look is a measure of what they perceive and see of the world. This short project aims to investigate the proof of concept of Eyecatcher: a concept of monitoring eye movement data in people whilst they watch a movie or television. By using eye movement data already collected in the team’s laboratory on more than 100 elderly people (more than 50 million data points) they will, in 12 months, test the hypothesis that patients with peripheral visual field defects exhibit different eye movement fingerprints (patterns) to visually healthy people of the same age using new statistical methods.

    This project will specifically entail the invention of new quantitative techniques: facsimiles of bioinformatics techniques already used to interrogate high-dimensional data (genetics) – this has not been done with eye movement data before.

  • Research update

    Professor Crabb and team have published proof of concept results showing that Eyecatcher can recognise glaucoma by the eye movements people make.

    We’re also funding a larger follow-up study that includes other conditions and developing a portable version of the testing kit.

    Eyecatcher 2: an eye-tracking system for detecting and monitoring eye conditions linked to older age.

    18 November 16 - 17 April 19

    Developing a low-cost way to detect glaucoma while watching video on a tablet computer

    Find out more
  • Publications