Comprehensive and sustainable eye care has the potential to improve the quality of life for millions of citizens, and enable countries to better manage healthcare costs. ‘Given our ageing populations, it is obvious that Europe and indeed the world as a whole will need more highly qualified professionals working in the field of vision science,’ says AGEYE (Aging eye) project coordinator Prof. Robert Montés-Micó from the University of Valencia in Spain. ‘We sought to tackle this through experience-based training, cross-disciplinary research projects and career development.’ Vision science is, quite simply, the study of vision. Experts in this field – who aim to expand current knowledge on the complexity of the eye and the visual process – include specialists in ophthalmology and optometry as well as more broadly biologists, neuroscientists, physicians and psychologists, to name but a few. The social and economic importance of this field of research continues to grow, just as the global population continues to age. ‘This demographic change has become a major health concern,’ continues Montés-Micó. ‘An important challenge in vision science is understanding the effects of ageing on the structure and function of the visual system, in order to bring forward new therapies and methods for restoring visual capabilities.’ Understanding the eye The AGEYE project set out to advance scientific understanding of how the eye’s structural and physiological changes occur with age, in a sustainable manner. This was achieved through training ten early-stage researchers and two experienced researchers in state-of-the-art concepts and leading-edge research techniques essential to the study of the human eye’s behaviour. The project also provided strong career-management skills and solid professional connections in order to help researchers capitalise on the project results and continue their learning. ‘The study of ocular ageing and its implications in old people’s visual function constitutes an important training area for young researchers,’ says Montés-Micó. ‘It also represents an important challenge. As this is a multidisciplinary research field, it requires knowledge and expertise in anatomy, physiological optics, psychophysics, physics, optometry and technology.’ The project also wanted participants to attain a greater insight into changes in eye structure that occur with age, taking into account that a large amount of economic and human resources is devoted to cataract and presbyopia (loss of near focusing ability that comes with age) treatments. Advances in eye care From this initial work, the AGEYE project moved on to investigating how the visual system responds to different stimuli. By combining this information with imaging data of the crystalline lens, project participants put forward new ideas of how ageing influences aberrations to known anatomical changes in the eye. New systems were developed for modelling the surface of the eye and identifying the position of some ocular structures more accurately than with traditional imaging techniques. In addition, this project investigated which complaints referred by patients are related to aging processes occurring in the visual system, and whether these may be objectively determined and correlated with those complaints. Finally, consortium partners shared their experiences and know-how in therapeutic solutions for cataract and presbyopia (contact and intraocular lenses), allowing for a deep understanding of the advantages and drawbacks of currently available options. ‘In summary, the project has helped to increase knowledge in the ageing processes occurring in the human eye, while training new scientists who can contribute towards improving the quality of life for increasing numbers of aged people,’ said Montés-Micó.
AGEYE, vision, eye, ageing, elderly, healthcare, ophthalmology, optometry