Contact lens research could slow vision loss for millions

New contact lens research offers hope for millions of near-sighted people

By Bob Burtt

Communications & Public Affairs

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Research being undertaken at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Contact Lens Research (CCLR) could offer huge benefits for millions of people who suffer from myopia, or near sightedness, says Deborah Jones, clinical scientist at the centre.

Debbie Jones, clinical scientist at the University of WaterlooDebbie Jones, clinical scientist at University of Waterloo's Centre for Contact Lens Research, with a young study participant.

For people with myopia, light does not focus correctly on the retina at the back of the eye, requiring eyeglasses or contact lenses to accurately focus the light and make distant objects clear. While low levels of myopia are an inconvenience, people with high degress of myopia are more at risk of developing glaucoma, cataracts and in some cases can lose vision through detachment of the thinned retina.

“Our research is looking  at using contact lenses to slow down the progression of myopia,” Jones said. Researchers, working with the contact lens industry, have long sought ways to slow the progression of myopia, but without much success. New research involving the CCLR is investigating specially designed contact lenses that specifically change the way light is focused on the peripheral retina.

When an eye becomes myopic it becomes longer from front to back and changes from being round to almost oblong, Jones explains. Previous studies with monkeys and chicks have shown that the progression of myopia can be delayed by changing the way light focuses on the peripheral retina. Jones and her associates at Waterloo and five other centres in North America, the United Kingdom, Poland and Singapore are about to launch a three-year study to see if it also works on humans.

Success would mean a dramatic reduction in the number of people who suffer from myopia and who develop high degrees of myopia, and ultimately associated develop ocular complications. It would change the way optometry is practiced, and reduce the financial burden on the health care costs globally.

·       The incidence of myopia is on the rise globally. It affects children as young as six years of age and tends to progress until the early 20s.

·       Asian people are most susceptible. As many as 85-90 per cent of youngsters in Singapore suffer from myopia.

·       The centre is currently recruiting participants between the ages of eight and 12 for a study to begin in January. Interested people should go to http://cclr.ca; email a3mcinto@uwaterloo.ca or phone 519-888-4539.