World first treatment helps with lazy eye

Playing Tetris under controlled conditions may be a cure for lazy eye in both children and adults. Although amblyopia is often known as “lazy eye” the impairment in vision is due to abnormal development within visual areas of the brain, not a defect of the eye.

Dr Ben Thompson

Dr Ben Thompson

The world first Tetris experiments were devised by vision scientist Dr Ben Thompson, from The University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research, in collaboration with a team including Professor Robert Hess from McGill University.

You can watch Dr Ben Thompson discussing his work, and see examples of the special tetris being played, on One News’ broadcast of 26 April by clicking here.  (content loads slowly)

These experiments showed that presenting a higher intensity Tetris stimulation to the affected eye than the good eye, helps train both eyes to work together.  Different blocks are presented to each eye and the two eyes must work together for the game to be played.

The team’s latest study published in ‘Current Biology’, demonstrated fast improvements in vision after the Tetris treatment, and that the benefits have so far proven to last at least three months.

“We found much larger improvements in patients who were treated with the version of the Tetris game that encouraged both eyes to work together than those that played Tetris with their good eye patched.”, says Dr Thompson.

Participants in the study were given special video goggles to help their eyes work as a team and asked to play Tetris for one hour a day for ten days.  At the end of the period, their lazy eye showed significant improvement in binocular ability.

Dr Thompson is a co-inventor of the Tetris game-based treatment for amblyopia and holds patents for the treatment regime.

Amblyopia is a disorder of binocular vision and with the way that the brain interprets information as it suppresses or ignores signals to one or other of the eyes.  The treatment is a new way of training both eyes to work together.

It’s estimated that one in 50 children has lazy eye, or amblyopia. This condition occurs when the brain receives different images from each eye during childhood which can be due to the eyes being misaligned.. Without intervention, it can lead to permanent loss of vision in the weaker eye.

The traditional treatment for lazy eye has been to patch the good eye to force the lazy eye to work. This treatment can be effective, but many children object to wearing the eye patch.

It was originally assumed that patients with amblyopia did not have the connections in the brain to use both eyes at the same time.  This study shows that patients could use both eyes at the same time, if the images to the lazy eye were more visible than those to the good eye.  The level of visibility is changed until both eyes are trained to work together – this takes about 10 days.

Dr Thompson is now hoping to gain funding for a large clinical trial that will take up to a year, again in collaboration with the study team.  If the clinical trials are positive the hope is that the treatment will become available to patients.

The study was funded by the Health Research Council and the Auckland Medical Health Research Foundation.

Written by Suzi Phillips, s.phillips@auckland.ac.nz

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