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New clinical trial at DIT aims to make a global impact in the control of Myopia

Posted: 22 February, 2017

The Centre for Eye Research Ireland at DIT is launching a major clinical trial in Ireland and the UK to control the development of myopia (short-sightedness) in children.

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We met with Professor James Loughman in his gleaming new labs in the Greenway Hub, packed with high spec, state-of-the-art equipment that is awaiting the arrival of 250 children participants. If successful, the trial could have a significant impact in fighting myopia and blindness across the globe.

Can you tell me about the Centre for Eye Research Ireland (CERI)?

The Centre for Eye Research Ireland (CERI) has been about ten years in the making. Everything that CERI is designed to do is around preventing blindness, finding ways to make sure our eyes are healthier and better able to cope with the demands of modern life. People are living longer, getting older, and blindness is a common feature of aging, but there are ways to prevent that, which is what CERI is all about. Along with myself, we currently have nine PhD students working at CERI in the areas of myopia, glaucoma and a range of other eyecare problems.

Can you tell me about the MOSAIC Project (Myopia Outcome Study of Atropine In Children)?

MOSAIC is all about children. Myopia is one of the biggest problems that affects society today from a vision perspective. People don’t really have an understanding of what it is, other than it’s a bit of an optical inconvenience: people need to wear a pair of glasses and it impacts their lifestyle a bit. Myopia is actually a risk for blindness. In Ireland, it’s the third leading cause of blindness in the working age population and in parts of Asia it’s the biggest cause of blindness. It’s a serious problem. Two billion people worldwide are myopic and therefore at risk of blindness and that is projected to go to five billion by 2050. That’s all because how we use our eyes has changed fundamentally. We read a lot, we study from a much younger age, we spend longer in education, we work with computers, smart technology, spend less time outdoors. All of that has led to a myopia epidemic and there’s no coordinated approach to deal with it. If you compare it to obesity, we have lots of national and international agencies working to fight it, there’s no one doing the same for myopia, even though blindness is a pretty devastating health problem. At CERI, we are working to find a means to control and prevent myopia in children. If someone becomes short sighted, what we want to do is slow it down or stop it altogether from progressing.

In this new clinical trial, MOSAIC we will be testing a simple eye drop called atropine, which has proven to be effective in Asia. We’ll be testing it for the first time among a prominently Caucasian population and we’re hopeful it will have the same if not a better level of impact in light green or blue eyes. If it does, it will mean that the majority of people are at much less risk of going blind in the long term.

In Ireland, the trial is funded by the Health Research Board, Medical Charities Research Group and Fighting Blindness. In the UK, funding has been sourced through the National Institute for Health Research to establish this as a multi-centre international clinical trial. DIT has effectively become a key player in global myopia control.

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The team at the Centre for Eye Research Ireland (CERI)

What are you most excited about in terms of your move to the Environmental Sustainability and Health Institute in the new Greenway Hub, DIT Grangegorman?

CERI is going to be a cutting-edge facility of world-class standards. I’m excited to be in the Greenway Hub and use all the new equipment that has been provided, to start working with organisations like Fighting Blindness and working to find new solutions to eyecare problems. The good thing about being integrated into the Environmental Sustainability & Health Institute is that now we have the opportunity to collaborate with a focused group of researchers who are working on other health objectives. A lot of my work goes into the impact of nutrition on eye health for example, so now I’m going to have the opportunity to work with the Food and Health Research Centre at DIT. That’s exciting, to see what possibilities we can bring together. The potential for collaboration in the Greenway Hub is huge.

Do you have anything to add in relation to CERI going forward?

DIT is the only provider of optometry in Ireland and there are only 25 places so it’s extremely competitive. CERI is a platform for those students to grow the profession in Ireland and make an even bigger impact in terms of public health. Blindness and the general consequences of aging are a deterioration of vision. Right now, access to eyecare is very limited. There’s a big opportunity for optometrists to make an impact and I think CERI can provide a platform for that to happen, whereby people can get care in their communities by professionals who have really cutting edge skills to translate into their lives effectively. 

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Saoirse McCrann, a PhD student in the Centre for Eye Research Ireland explains about the project