By Krista Charles
Researchers from Cardiff and Bristol Universities are developing a genetic test that could determine the likelihood of developing myopia, a common eye disease where distant objects appear blurry.
The degree of a person’s myopia determines how far away they are able to see and it can get worse with age. While the progression of this condition cannot be halted, it can be slowed down.
Cathy Williams, a paediatric ophthalmologist from Bristol Medical School, who co-led the study, said: “A genetic test can be carried out at any age, so a test like this – for a high risk of myopia – could give children who are likely to become very short-sighted a head start if carried out when they are young and if there are effective suitable treatments.”
Myopia, more commonly known as short-sightedness, typically occurs when the eye grows too long, causing light rays to focus in front of the light sensitive retina instead of on it.
This vision disorder is usually corrected through the use of eyeglasses or contact lenses; however, it is associated with more degenerative eye conditions including glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal detachment which could lead to blindta Cha.
Professor Jeremy Guggenheim, from Cardiff University’s School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, who co-led the study, said their team could now identify one in 10 individuals who were six times more likely than average to develop severe short-sightedness by the time they reached adulthood.
The development of myopia usually occurs in childhood and has been linked to activities such as reading or computer use that require focusing on nearby objects.
Marielle Montero, 26, who is myopic and has been wearing glasses since childhood said in response to the possibility of genetic testing: “An early indication of your chances of being near-sighted would make you more aware of your technology use. Either way people are still going to use devices that will affect your eyes anyway so is it even worth knowing earlier than later?”
Professor Guggenheim said: “Treatments are available for slowing down the progression of short-sightedness. Knowing a child is at high risk would help parents and clinicians decide if treatment should be started.”
Data from 500,000 people was used in this study but further work, such as analysing an even larger scale genetic sample, would be needed to make the test a reality.