What Do Your Eyes Say? Device Can Diagnose Diseases Based on Eyelid Motion

October 2, 2017
Kevin Hattori

Researchers at the Technion’s Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering have developed a device that can diagnose diseases by means of an eyelid motion monitor (EMM). The project was published recently in Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology.

Student Alon Berger (seated) wears the Technion-created device that can diagnose diseases based on eyelid motion. At right is lead researcher Adi Hanuka, of the Technion’s Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering.

Already in its developmental stages, the device has won several international awards, and was ranked in the top 20 in the Texas Instruments Innovation Challenge (TIIC) – Europe Design Contest. Over the past two years, the device has been used in clinical trials at Haemek Medical Center in Afula, Israel.

The device was first developed by Technion Prof. Levi Schachter and doctoral student Adi Hanuka, who began working on it as an undergraduate. Hanuka continued working on it during her graduate studies, with the help of her students Alon Berger and Maor Itzhak (as part of their final undergraduate project).

“Eyelid motion provides us with meaningful information about the health of a patient,” explained Hanuka. “This motion can indicate not only eye diseases, but also neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, and autoimmune diseases such as Grave’s. We developed a device that can be installed on the standard refraction glasses used in eye tests, at the request of Dr. Daniel Briscoe, Chairman of the Haemek Medical Center Department of Ophthalmology.”

Prof. Levi Schachter, of the Technion’s Andrew and Erna Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering

Glasses are fitted with a hardware and software system that monitors and interprets eyelid movements. With approval of the Ethics Committee Regulations for Research Work Involving Human Participants, measurements of approximately 100 subjects have been collected in order to define the eyelid motion patterns (blinking speed and frequency) of a healthy person. Eyelid motions were analyzed using a signal-processing algorithm written by students Tal Berkowitz, Michal Spector, Shir Laufer, and Naama Pearl.

The team first examined blepharospasm dystonia, a disease characterized by involuntary contraction of the muscles responsible for closing the eyes. The researchers found a statistically significant quantitative relationship between a person’s eyelid pattern and the disease, which means that the device could be used to diagnose it. The system was also used to examine the effect of Botox injections, the conventional treatment for the disease, and it was found that within 15 minutes contractions decrease and the blinking pattern begins to match indices that exist among healthy people.

Blinking speed as a function of the amplitude of motion. Green – a patient with blepharospasm dystonia blinking at very high speed. Blue – after treatment, the same person blinking much more slowly.

The researchers are also gathering information about other groups, including patients with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

“Along with designing the product for purposes of commercialization, we are working in several directions: developing the device as a platform for multidisciplinary research on various topics such as the effect of emotions on blinking patterns; eyelid communication amongst the paralyzed; and automatic diagnosis through machine learning and based on a computerized comparison between the specific monitoring and an extensive database,” said Hanuka.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.

American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.