Genetics combined with long years of schooling can lead to myopia in children
Researchers have analysed data from more than 340,000 people to identify five genetic variants that increase a person’s risk of near-sightedness the longer they remain in school.
The project, led by Fight for Sight grant panel member Professor Jeremy Guggenheim, investigated how genetic variants and lifestyle factors associated with schooling increase the risk of myopia – the leading cause of irreversible visual impairment.
Previously, genetic studies have identified more than 450 genetic variants associated with an increased risk of nearsightedness, but few have been shown to increase risk specifically in people with lifestyle factors such as schooling.
In the new study, researchers used genetic and health data from thousands of participants with European ancestry and found the genetic variants that increase the risk of becoming nearsighted, the more time individuals spent in school – particularly those who had attained education at the university level.
Three of these variants were previously unknown, while two were found in studies of East Asian cohorts, where about 80% of children become nearsighted. For comparison, about 30% of children develop nearsightedness in the West. The researchers said that these findings provide new insights into the biological pathways that cause nearsightedness, but more research is needed to understand how those pathways interact with lifestyle factors to cause the condition.
Professor Jeremy Guggeinheim told us: “As well as requiring the need for glasses or contact lenses, myopia is a leading cause of uncorrectable visual impairment. Building on our previous research linking education and myopia, the new study identifies 5 genes associated with myopia development whose effects are amplified by additional years spent in education.”
Click here to read the full article in PLOS Genetics.
Approximately 1 in 3 people in the United Kingdom suffer from myopia, and the condition increases the risk of a number of serious eye disorders.
Myopia most often develops during school age, with the highest incidence in countries with intensive education systems.
Genetics, insufficient time spent outdoors, and years spent in education are risk factors for myopia.