The World Health Organisation predicts that by the year 2050, half the world’s population will be affected by myopia.
The incidence of myopia is increasing in many countries with the greater concern that even a moderate level of myopia is associated with a greater risk of developing blinding eye diseases such as myopic macular degeneration, retinal detachment and glaucoma. Our research in Western Australia over the last decade has shown that myopia rates are between 20-30% (Raine Eye Healthy Aging Study). These rates are higher than those found a generation earlier in the Melbourne (Visual Impairment Project and Blue Mountains Eye Study).
Our outdoor lifestyle may be keeping myopia rates down in Australia, but there is considerable concern that the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 will create a surge in myopia in school children over the coming decade.
Although we know that spending too much time inside can increase a person’s risk of developing myopia, we still don’t know exactly what causes myopia. To determine the very early changes in the eye that occur before myopia can be detected, we plan to study the eyes of preschool children who are part of the ORIGINS project based here in Perth. Once we have proven treatments, research from the ORIGINS project will enable us to know which children need to be examined more often and when we need to initiate treatments to prevent or treat myopia.
The Lions Eye Institute recognises that myopia is a major contemporary health issue that develops in childhood and has lifelong consequences. We are committed to expanding and combining our myopia-related research to form a myopia discovery and treatment platform. We already have the essential and established building blocks:
- Well established myopia gene discovery research program
- Well-established and ongoing surveys of children and young adults clarifying the environmental risk factors
- Emerging skills in genetically modified zebrafish studies where environment and genes are modified to study impact on the eye and potential new therapies
- Experience in clinical trials for myopia therapies -WA ATOM study.
Approximately one in four Western Australia adults have myopia with this figure surely increasing without our action.
Myopia research is required now, to prevent people losing vision in the future.