In an early step in that direction, results of a study found that small increases in daily artificial light slowed the development of nearsightedness by 40 percent in tree shrews, which are close relatives of primates.
The team, led by Thomas Norton, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Vision Sciences, presented the study results today at the 2012 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting in Ft. Lauderdale.
People can see clearly because the front part of the eye bends light and focuses it on the retina in back. Nearsightedness, also called myopia, occurs when the physical length of the eye is too long, causing light to focus in front of the retina and blurring images.
Myopia has many causes, some related to inheritance and some to the environment. Research in recent years had, for instance, suggested that children who spent more time outdoors, presumably in brighter outdoor light, had less myopia as young adults. That raised the question of whether artificial light, like sunlight, could help reduce myopia development, without the risks of prolonged sun exposure, such as skin cancer and cataracts.
“Our hope is to develop programs that reduce the rate of myopia using energy efficient, fluorescent lights for a few hours each day in homes or classrooms,” said John Siegwart, Ph.D., research assistant professor in UAB Vision Sciences and co-author of the study. “Trying to prevent myopia by fixing defective genes through gene therapy or using a drug is a multi-year, multimillion-dollar effort with no guarantee of success. We hope to make a difference just with light bulbs.”
Sorting through theories
Work over 25 years had shown that putting a goggle over one eye of a study animal, one that lets in light but blurs images, causes the eye to grow too long, which in turn causes myopia. Other past studies had shown that elevated light levels could reduce myopia under these conditions, whether the light was produced by halogen lamps, metal halide bulbs or daylight. The current study is the first to show that the development of myopia can be slowed by increasing daily fluorescent light levels.
One prevailing theory on myopia-related shape changes in the eye is that they are caused by the blurriness of images experienced while reading or doing other near-work chores. Another holds some people develop myopia because they have low levels of vitamin D, which goes up with exposure to sunlight and could explain the connection between outdoor light and reduced myopia. A third theory, one reinforced by the current results, is that bright light causes an increase in levels of dopamine, a signaling molecule in the retina.
To test the theories, the team used a goggle that lets in light but no images to produce myopia in one eye of each tree shrew. They found that a group exposed to elevated fluorescent light levels for eight hours per day developed 47 percent less myopia than a control group exposed to normal indoor lighting, even though the images were neither more nor less blurry. They also found that animals fed vitamin D supplements developed myopia just like ones without the supplement. Given these results, the team is now experimenting with light levels and treatment times to see if a short, bright light treatment could be effective. They have also begun studies looking at the effect of elevated light on retinal dopamine levels as it relates to the reduction of myopia.
“If we can find the best kind of light, treatment period and light level, we’ll have the scientific justification to begin studies raising light levels in schools, for instance,” said Norton. “Compact fluorescent bulbs use much less electricity than standard light bulbs, and future programs raising light levels will have more impact the less expensive they are.”
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center and the state of Alabama’s largest employer with some 18,000 employees and an economic impact of more than $4.6 billion on the state. UAB has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for exemplary service to America’s communities, and in 2008 ranked nationally as one of the top 5 “Best Places to Work in Academia” in a survey published by The Scientist magazine. For more information, please visit www.uab.edu.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a separate, independent institution from the University of Alabama, which is located in Tuscaloosa. Please use University of Alabama at Birmingham on first reference and UAB on all consecutive references.
VIDEO: www.youtube.com/uabnews TEXT: www.uab.edu/news TWEETS: www.twitter.com/uabnews
Greg Williams | Newswise Science News
Researchers simplify tiny structures' construction drip by drip
12.11.2018 | Princeton University, Engineering School
Mandibular movement monitoring may help improve oral sleep apnea devices
06.11.2018 | Elsevier
Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.
Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy