Short-sightedness (myopia) is a health problem that threatens to sweep the world, but it’s one Associate Professor Padmaja Sankaridurg believes she and her colleagues can play an important role in controlling.
Myopia affects 27% of the world’s population. Research suggests these numbers will rise dramatically as people spend more time indoors and at their computer screens, taking the world’s current number of myopes from 1.45 billion to 2.5 billion by 2020.
“Take any country in the world, there seems to be something about the urban environment that contributes to myopia,” says Sankaridurg, Vision CRC’s program leader on the condition.
Myopia often occurs when children start school and can severely effect their education. At its worst, it also increases risks of developing more serious vision problems, such as retinal detachment and glaucoma, which can lead to blindness.
Hence, Vision CRC’s goal is to develop a new generation of optical products that can control myopia’s progression in children – a move that would consolidate Australia’s position as a global centre of excellence in understanding the condition.
Vision CRC: Sydney
R&D: $22 million, 5-year extension granted in 2010
Reach: More than 50 countries, including China
At a glance: Vision CRC was established in 2003 as part of the Cooperative Research Centres program with a grant of $32 million, which was followed up in 2010 with a further $22 million to carry out leading research in the areas of myopia, new biomaterials for vision correction, ocular comfort and vision care delivery. Vision CRC partners with 31 organisations.
In 2007, Adelaide-based Carl Zeiss Vision Australia was selected to produce spectacles for controlling myopia, after four years of R&D by Sankaridurg and her team at Vision CRC, who collaborated with researchers at the Brien Holden Vision Institute.
They had been testing the theory that if lenses could directly focus onto the periphery of the retina – not just the central portion – then myopia progression would be slowed in young children and perhaps also in adults.
The first-generation prototypes and second-generation lenses were produced and evaluated with another vital CRC partner, Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center (ZOC) at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, between 2007 and 2009.
ZOC is China’s leading ophthalmic trial centre, says Sankaridurg. Importantly, ZOC can give access to the most vulnerable myope population – children.
Through these key partnerships, the design evaluation at ZOC demonstrated an ability to slow the progression of myopia by 30% in children aged 6–12 years old.
So far, Sankaridurg has overseen results from over 600 children, with trial proposals underway for another 500.
In 2010, Carl Zeiss Vision Australia launched the cutting-edge technology under the MyoVision brand name into the Asian market, while the international collaboration reported on 12 months of results in a paper in the journal Optometry & Vision Science.
“Communication is the key for good collaboration and for ensuring success,” Sankaridurg adds.
— Paul Hendy