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Drugs with potential to treat nearsightedness
October 22, 2018, 12:44 pm

Nearsightedness, or myopia, a common condition that is expected to affect half the world's population by 2050, is usually rectified by the use of eye-glasses or, more recently, through surgical procedures.  A new study on genetic changes in the retina of the eye, offers the potential to develop medications that could stop or reverse myopia.

Myopia is a condition in which the eye lengthens causing images to focus in front of the retina, instead of exactly on it. This impairs distance vision, but not near vision. In hyperopia, or farsightedness, the eye shortens and focuses images behind the retina thereby making it difficult to see close up, but not in the distance.

Previously specialists had believed that myopia and hyperopia, or farsightedness developed after birth from opposite changes in the same genes and signaling pathways. But now, researchers at Columbia University in New York City have found that, for the most part, the development of myopia and hyperopia involves different genes and cell signaling pathways.

According to the WHO, myopia and high myopia prevalence is rising at an alarming rate globally and is among the world’s five priority health conditions, as both forms of eye-disorders increase the risks of developing serious eye conditions such as cataract, retinal damage, and glaucoma.

The new understanding of myopia offers the potential framework to develop new anti-myopia drugs. Earlier studies had pointed to both genes and environmental factors, such as spending less time outdoors and more time indoors reading and using computers, as being responsible for increasing the risk of myopia. However, before the new study, the exact molecular mechanism underlying myopia were not clear.

In the study, the researchers placed a lens in front of the eye of rats for several weeks to alter the focal length of the eye. By changing the type of lens, they were able to either cause the eye to grow longer or shorter, and leading to either myopia or hyperopia in the test animals.

Upon examining each animal's two retinas after the exposure time, the team found differences in gene expression between the exposed and the non-exposed eye in the form of either activation or suppression of largely distinct pathways. The researchers also found that 29 of the genes that changed expression were in the same chromosome regions that large genetic studies have linked to myopia in humans.

In their report on the study, the researchers said that evidence of these new pathways provided a framework for the identification of new drug targets and for the development of more effective treatment options for myopia.


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