Researchers investigate how our natural ‘body clock’ could influence short sightedness

14 December 18

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Press Office

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Eye research charity Fight for Sight and the Thomas Pocklington Trust are funding research to understand how a disrupted ‘natural body clock’ plays a role in the development of short-sightedness (myopia).

Researchers from Ulster university will be studying children at low and high risk of developing myopia by taking saliva samples and analysing melatonin levels combined with data about family history, sleep quality and personality type.

The information from this research could provide evidence for the promotion of a healthy circadian rhythm to help prevent myopia.

While there are many genetic and environmental factors that can influence the development of myopia, recent studies have indicated that two key biochemicals that regulate the natural body clock - melatonin and dopamine - also influence eye growth. This indicates that disruption of circadian rhythm could be contributing to the development of the condition.

Director of Research, Policy and Innovation, Dr Neil Ebenezer, said: “It’s important to establish if there are any links between circadian rhythm and short-sightedness, which is actually on the increase in children. The knowledge gained from this research project could help in the development of new treatments. In the future regulating melatonin levels could pave the way for treating those at risk of myopia.”

Professor Kathryn Saunders from Ulster University, said: “Our team are grateful to Fight for Sight and the Thomas Pocklington Trust for funding this exciting project which will provide novel insight into the role of circadian rhythms in the promotion of human myopia.”

Phil Ambler, Director of Evidence and Policy, Thomas Pocklington Trust commented: “We are very pleased to be co-funding this important piece of research looking at short-sightedness in children in the UK. Short-sightedness can impact on the quality of life of children if left undetected and we would encourage parents to have their children’s eye health checked by an optometrist if they have concerns. We hope this research helps to inform work to prevent short-sightedness for future generations.”

In the UK, there has been a significant increase in the number of children being diagnosed with myopia at a younger age. The number of children affected has more than doubled in comparison to the 1960s.

Although glasses or contact lenses can easily solve blurred vision that comes with myopia, they do not solve the underlying cause which is excessive eye growth.

The sleeping patterns and circadian rhythm of individuals with and without myopia differ. It is not currently known whether these differences are a consequence of myopia, or have contributed to its development. Researchers aim to investigate this ‘chicken or egg’ question.

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