Commencing in 2017, this 3-year project is co-funded by Fighting Blindness and the Health Research Board (HRB) under the MRCG-HRB co-funding scheme. We spoke with Prof Loughman to learn a little more.
Myopia, also known as short or near-sightedness occurs when the eye does not direct light to a single focus to see images clearly. While objects found close-by can be seen easily, objects which are far away may seem blurred. At present, myopia can be corrected by wearing prescribed glasses or contact lenses. However there is currently no therapeutic approach available for the control and prevention of myopia.
This project aims to deepen our knowledge and explore ways of predicting those at risk of myopia. A treatment known as atropine will be given and examined in children as part of a clinical trial, with the aim of testing its potential to control the progression of myopia and ocular growth. This treatment has previously shown potential to effectively control myopia in Asia and in this trial is being examined for the first time in a Western society.
As an optometrist, I was very quickly frustrated by the limitations of my profession. Working in Africa and in Ireland, I’ve engaged with so many people who were needlessly vision impaired. The attraction for me to retinal research came from the possibility that I could do more to make a significant impact on people’s lives. Loss of vision is a life altering experience, but so much of it is avoidable or preventable.
Myopia, in particular, attracted my interest because it affects children during a particularly important stage in their development, when the ability to see well can have a profound effect on a child’s experience. It is my hope that every child has a life filled with opportunity without the barrier of poor vision.
Myopia is now finally attracting significant interest as a topic of scientific research and commercial innovation. Although myopia is the most common and fastest growing condition worldwide, relatively little is understood about it. Currently there are no established treatments to stop people becoming short-sighted, and no treatments to stop them getting worse if they do.
Myopia is now a leading cause of blindness among the working age population in Ireland and elsewhere, so there is an urgent need to halt the spread of myopia and to find treatments that can slow its progression and prevent blindness among people affected.
Within the next five years I expect the treatment of myopia to change fundamentally. Instead of just receiving a simple pair of glasses to help them see better, children will be offered new treatments including innovative eye drops and specialist contact lenses designed to slow down the growth of the eye. Eventually, we hope to treat children even before they become short-sighted, with the intent to prevent the condition altogether.
Society will become increasingly aware that being short-sighted is not just a lifestyle inconvenience requiring the use of glasses, it is a serious health condition and should be managed appropriately.