By Helen Carter
The world’s first myopia institute to tackle the emerging epidemic will be based in Australia and involve a global consortium of 100 leading scientists and researchers.
The Myopia Institute will be established by 1 August and its website will report the latest myopia information considered scientifically valid and evidence-based.
The Myopia Institute will be established and governed by the Vision CRC. Its administration and funding base will initially be in Sydney at the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) but its board and members will be global.
BHVI CEO Professor Brien Holden said that Australia through the BHVI and its collaborators was leading the world by hosting a recent World Health Organization global meeting on myopia and establishing the world’s first myopia institute.
He said the independent scientific organisation would collate and discuss evidence-based knowledge about causes of myopia, its prevalence and consequences, particularly those of high myopia, and possible interventions that might be useful in controlling the condition and its side-effects.
‘The institute will consist of 100 distinguished scientists and researchers in the area of myopia reviewing the latest scientific findings in all areas of myopia research and preparing publications and information for all stakeholders,’ Professor Holden said.
‘They will take part in the institute’s programs, and scientific meetings, writing and collating position papers and scientific articles.
‘The institute will discuss research and areas needing research, pointing out what is known, what is not known that needs to be investigated, and researchers anywhere can then take up the challenge in a co-ordinated, co-operative and fully-informed way.
‘This sharing of knowledge will advance everyone’s thinking and planning.
‘A major theme will be the control of myopia with the aim of stemming the tide and the side-effects.
‘We know that some drugs, increasing outdoor time, myopia control spectacles and myopia control contact lenses do work. The question is whether their effects could be synergistic.’
The institute will be run by management and a board and its finances will be constituted within and be overseen by the Vision CRC board using some of the continuing funding from commercialisation revenues generated by Vision CRC programs.
Professor Holden said the world was facing a major vision challenge from the epidemic of myopia as its prevalence and level were rising dramatically.
‘Without substantial investment in the science to address the issue by 2050, half the world will be myopic and high myopia could become the leading cause of blindness,’ he said.
The world’s myopic population is expected to rise from 1.3 billion myopes in 2000 to 4.9 billion by 2050, according to a recent meta-analysis by the BHVI.
‘It has been known for many years that the length of the highly myopic eye stretches and damages the retina. Greater axial elongation of the eye in higher levels of myopia causes that stretching of the retina, leading to retinal damage and in many cases, eventual vision loss,’ he said.
‘Understanding myopia and the development of interventions to stop its progress are critical. There’s an urgent responsibility to take action but also an opportunity for Australia to take the lead in this area.’
Myopia is also developing at younger ages, for example 53 per cent of nine-year-olds in Singapore are myopic.
The idea was the brainchild of Professor Brien Holden, Dr Monica Jong from BHVI, former head of Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management at the World Health Organization Professor Serge Resnikoff, and Chief Health Officer at the University of Houston, Professor Earl Smith.
They all attended the BHVI-WHO Global Scientific Meeting on Myopia at the University of NSW in March, hosted by the BHVI.
It involved 26 experts from around the world converging to agree on definitions of myopia and high myopia, review evidence and devise an action plan.
‘This is the first step in having high myopia and myopic macular degeneration recognised on a global level so that we can better quantify the contribution of myopic macular degeneration to world blindness in the global health survey which currently ignores myopia,’ Professor Holden said.
The evening after the meeting, more than 80 optometrists attended a professional education event on myopia for optometrists at the BHVI, with lectures delivered by Professor Holden, Professor Smith, Professor Resnikoff and Dr Jong.