Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, April 04, 2015

We See, Therefore We Know

"Generally, people don't realize your eyes are changing and growing well into your 20s. Some people think they have got to 16 and 17 and that is that."
Karen Sparrow, head, professional development, Association of Optometrists

"The eye is already an organ of choice for gene therapy, for example, because the eye's small volume and self-contained area allow the therapy to remain inside the eye in a concentrated volume."
"In addition, the eye's accessibility lets clinicians observe the effects of treatment over time with noninvasive methods that can illuminate and test the retina and other eye structures." 
Professor Terri Young, Duke University, North Carolina
Millions of Britons are putting their sight at risk by not having regular eye tests
An eye test is the only way to diagnose glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in Britain Photo: CHRISTOPHER COX

The faculty of eyesight is one of the treasures that nature has gifted us with. What we see in the world that surrounds us is how we think of the world around us. We are able to see what those we love and nurture and those whose love for us gives us the emotional support we require as human beings invested in companionship and intimacy look like up close and very personal. We view the landscapes that make up our world.

And life has immense value to us, added by the very fact that we have eyesight that helps us to make sense of what exists, for we see it. True, we can also touch, and we have the additional sense of hearing and of smell, but eyesight informs us in a way that no other of our sensory perceptions is quite capable of doing. It's also true that the unsighted are able to make better use of sound and touch in particular, to partially compensate for their lack of eyesight.

As we mature the clarity of our eyesight becomes gradually compromised, in lock-step with other bodily physical and mental faculties. For most people, a gradual diminishing of their sight is taken in stride, because it is gradual, and because modern science and medical advances and optical devices all aid us to adjust to the changes we must face. But no one really expects that the very young will suffer consequences of the use of modern technology and the tendency to remain indoors.

A short while ago the journal Nature published a report that points out short-sightedness now is beginning to achieve epidemic proportions. The Myopia "boom", claims the article, has become most pronounced in the populations of East Asia where 90 percent of teens and young adults in China in particular are short-sighted. In Seoul, 96.5 percent of 19 year-old men are similarly afflicted.

One third of the world's population, accounting for two and a half billion people, could become shortsighted by decade's end, according to some estimates. Partially, this can be accounted for by the fact that populations age. But it is among the young where the problem is slated to become particularly acute. One million children globally are assumed to have undiagnosed vision problems, at the present time.

The Nature study points to a lifestyle spent largely indoors as opposed to earlier eras when it was far more common for people to spend greater periods of their lives in outdoor settings. As technology has advanced, our natural habits and habitats have ultimately been altered to reflect that changed technology and its influence on our lives. People spend more time in front of computer screens, a situation felt to be exacerbating the problem.

As well, research has spotlighted 26 genes linked to short-sightedness, where children with one affected parent are endowed with a one-in-three risk through genetic inheritance of developing myopia. Most people happen to be born with long-sightedness which, by age 8 develops to normal eyesight. But in an age of television, computers, longer academic stays and reading indoors, myopia has overtaken normal eyesight as the eyes attempt to compensate to changes in habits and exposure.

When the focal point of an image falls just short of the retina at the rear of the eye, myopia occurs and blurred distance vision results. Most myopia cases fall into a 'mild' category, but roughly two to three percent become pathological, causing retinal detachment, premature glaucoma and glaucoma leading to blindness in time.

Researchers in Britain several years ago conducted a study with thousands of patients worldwide, searching for genes associated with various degrees of myopia and discovered some variations around the RASGRF1 gene, associated with eye growth and strongly associated with myopia. That gene either prevented against myopia or protected against its development.

Now the hope is to be able to discern precisely how those variations affect eye growth and eventually to develop treatments to mimic the perfect mix of genes. With success, the hope is that such treatments should be capable of preventing eyeball distortion, enabling the maintenance of 20-20 vision in those affected by myopia, and they are becoming legion.

Something like finding the Fountain of Youth for eyesight, perhaps.

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