Myopia rates among children are set to increase from 300 million to 500 million by 2050*. Ulster University is working with researchers around the world to determine if progression of myopia can be slowed down with daily use of eye drops.

Researchers from Ulster University’s Biomedical Sciences Research Institute are investigating whether eye drops can be used to slow down the progression of myopia, an eye condition also known as short-sightedness. Lead Researcher Professor Kathryn Saunders and the team at Ulster University are working as part of an international consortium, with partners in USA, Netherlands, Hungary and Spain. Myopia usually occurs because the eyeball is too long and it causes distant objects to appear blurry and out of focus. The novel clinical trial is the first of its kind in the UK to investigate how effectively, over a four-year period, low dose atropine eye drops slow the rate at which short-sighted children’s eyesight deteriorates. Ulster University began enrolling children into the trial in April this year; the children were the first in the UK to have the opportunity to take part in this important research.

Professor Kathryn Saunders, the Ulster lead for the international Childhood Atropine for Myopia Progression (CHAMP) study, explains; “Myopia is a rising global epidemic and we are witnessing more young children than ever before presenting with the condition. Optometrists used to think that children mainly became short-sighted during their teenage years, but we now know most children are becoming short-sighted before they are teenagers. This is worrying because the younger myopia starts, the quicker it tends to progress, with children requiring stronger glasses year on year. This is inconvenient for children and parents, but of more concern is that higher levels of myopia significantly increase the risk of eye disease and visual impairment later in life and we want to avoid this and give children the potential to have good vision and healthy eyes for their whole lives.

Our research, and that of others, has shown that modern lifestyles and environment are partly to blame for increasing levels of myopia and, alongside this clinical trial of eye drops, we are undertaking additional research which will help us define and measure the impact of digital devices such as tablets and smartphones, exercise, time spent outdoors and sleep on children’s eye health. This will allow us, and other eye health professionals, to give better and more targeted advice to children and parents.

At Ulster University we are carrying out a new clinical trial of a medicinal product to treat myopia in children in the UK by investigating the efficacy of eye drops in slowing the rate at which children’s short-sight progresses. If your child is already short-sighted, aged 6-10 years, can travel to Coleraine every six months for testing and is willing to use eye drops every night for up to four years, they may be eligible to take part in this study.”

Ten-year-old Ryan McClintock taking part in the study, said: “I want to take part because it can help me, but it can also help other people and I think that would be something very good to do.”

Parents can find out more about the study and the benefits of taking part by searching Ulster University CHAMP study or by emailing our study coordinator and optometrist Emma McConnell e.mcconnell@ulster.ac.uk

Optometrists who have patients that may be suitable for the trial can also get in touch with us for more information on how to refer children to the trial.

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