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Myopia: Fundamental understanding needed

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 675137

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    1 January 2016

  • End date

    31 December 2019

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.3.1.

  • Overall budget:

    € 3 544 115,04

  • EU contribution

    € 3 544 115,03

Coordinated by:

EBERHARD KARLS UNIVERSITAET TUEBINGEN

English EN

Insight into the fundamentals of myopia

Near-sightedness or myopia is increasing at an alarming rate: currently, approximately one third of the world population is myopic. Understanding the mechanisms of myopia development is fundamental for the design of novel and effective treatments.

Health
© Frank Schaeffel

In myopia, vision of distant objects is compromised, as the image is focused in front of the retina. High degrees of myopia carry a significant risk of blindness, with substantial socioeconomic consequences. Accumulating evidence indicates that the eye engages in closed-loop visual feedback, using optical defocus as an error signal. This means that the eye can detect the sign and amount of image defocus and control the growth of the eye. However, the precise pathway and biochemical signals implicated in defocus detection and control of eye growth remain elusive.

A training network for myopia investigation

Undertaken with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme, the MyFUN training network was established to bridge the knowledge gap in myopia optics. Researchers sought to analyse the features of the visual feedback loop and the limited effect of spectacles in myopia correction. The discovery of biomarkers to predict myopia in individual cases was of particular interest. “A major unknown is how the retina can extract information about refractive errors and trigger the corrective changes in eye growth that are observed in children,” explains project coordinator Frank Schaeffel. The consortium generated state-of-the-art optical technologies to describe defocus patterns on the retina, and the effects of different spectacle corrections. Using these tools, they studied the mechanisms of myopia development in children and young adults, as well as in the animal model of the chicken. Contrary to previous beliefs, researchers found no correlation between the magnitude of retina accommodation errors and eye growth, which indicates that the eye growth mechanism ignores these errors. Although the lens tries to compensate for the short focal length by flattening, this is not enough to correct myopia. Studies in twins show that although there is some inherited risk in myopia development, environmental factors constitute the primary trigger. Experimental evidence in the chicken suggests that we may soon be able to predict myopia development by measuring specific biomarkers. It has been proposed that the visual stimuli driving lens accommodation are modified by contrast adaptation, and that it may be possible to optimise the visual environment to reduce myopia development and possibly eye growth. MyFUN scientists discovered that text with inverted contrast (e.g. white letters on a dark background) may cause less myopia, a finding that attracted considerable media attention.

MyFUN future directions

With myopia emerging as a civilisation disorder, and existing optical interventions having only moderate effects, there is a pressing need for research in the field. Currently, myopia prevalence reaches 95 % in some Asian cities and 50 % at German universities. “The project was very successful, producing significant insight into myopia development as well as new optical technologies to support biomedical research in the field of optics in the future,” highlights Schaeffel. At the same time, he underscores the important impact of EU-funded training networks on scientific progress and interactions within European countries as well as on the job market. Future research directions include a better definition of the visual stimuli that make the eye myopic, verification of some of the findings in school children and study of myopia biomarkers.

Keywords

MyFUN, myopia, eye growth, refractive errors, near-sightedness, image defocus

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 675137

Status

Closed project

  • Start date

    1 January 2016

  • End date

    31 December 2019

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.3.1.

  • Overall budget:

    € 3 544 115,04

  • EU contribution

    € 3 544 115,03

Coordinated by:

EBERHARD KARLS UNIVERSITAET TUEBINGEN