Scientists at USC and other universities have developed a new tool to screen children for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder quickly and affordably, making it accessible to more children in remote locations worldwide.
The tool uses a camera and computer vision to record patterns in children’s eye movements as they watch multiple one-minute videos or look toward or away from a target, according to USC.
It identifies patterns that contrast to recorded eye movements by other children who watched the same videos or targets. The eye movements outside the norm were flagged by the researchers as children who might be at risk for having the disorder and need more formal diagnoses by healthcare practitioners.
The technique is described in a study, “Detection of Children/Youth With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Through Eye Movement, Psychometric, and Neuroimaging Data,” newly published in Frontiers in Neurology.
According to the paper’s corresponding author, Laurent Itti, a professor of computer science, psychology and neuroscience at USC, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is still quite difficult to diagnose — a professional diagnosis can take a long time with the current work up taking as much as an entire day.
“There is not a simple blood test to diagnose FASD,” he said. “It is one of those spectrum disorders where there is a broad range of the disorder. It is medically very challenging and it is co-morbid with other conditions. The current gold standard is subjective, as it involves a battery of tests and clinical evaluation. It is also costly.”
Itti said he and his colleagues conducted the research as they felt that a screening tool might be able to reach more children who might be at risk. It is estimated that millions of children will be diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. When not diagnosed early in a child’s life, the condition can give rise to secondary cognitive and behavioral disabilities, Itti said.
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