Myopia - Schepens Eye Research Institute

The common name for myopia is nearsightedness. It is a refractive condition in which objects that are nearby are seen clearly, but distant objects do not come into proper focus. Nearsightedness occurs if your eyeball is too long or the cornea has too much curvature, so that the rays of light entering your eye are not focused correctly on the retina. Nearsightedness is a very common vision condition that affects nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population. It normally first occurs in school-age children and adolescents. The eye continues to grow during childhood, and nearsightedness generally develops by age 20.

What are the symptoms of myopia?

The characteristic sign of nearsightedness is difficulty seeing distant objects like a movie or TV screen or chalkboard. These objects appear more or less fuzzy, depending on distance. An adult or an older child will probably recognize the problem and realize that he or she should be examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Signs to be aware of in a younger child are the avoidance of close work, holding pictures or books very close to the eyes, or frequent headaches. In any case, even if there is no apparent problem, a child's vision should be screened periodically by the pediatrician. Fortunately, in most cases, myopia is a benign condition and is easily corrected.

Are there complications that can arise from myopia?

Within the retina is a small area known as the macula. The macula is the portion of the retina responsible for detailed vision and color vision. The remainder of the retina is involved in side vision and night vision. Some people with high myopia develop damage to the macula known as myopic macular degeneration, or myopic choroidal neovascularization (CNV). CNV results from growth of new blood vessels underneath the retina. If CNV occurs in the macula, it can decrease the central vision. In high myopia patients, the retina is stretched more than usual resulting, in thin areas that sometimes develop holes or tears. The retina can become separated from the back wall of the eye, causing a retinal detachment.

Can CNV be treated?

As with Age-related Macular Degeneration, clinicians now have several means at their disposal to address unwanted blood vessel growth. These include laser surgery and anti-angiogenic drugs like Lucentis© and Macugen©. Talk to your ophthalmologist to find out if these treatments are right for you.

What is Schepens Eye Research Institute doing about it?

The Institute has a two-pronged approach to addressing this disorder.  The first approach is to target unwanted new blood vessel growth, known as angiogenesis, associated with macular degeneration in all its forms.  Our investigators have been involved in the development of the anti-angiogenic treatments now available in the clinic, and continue to work on new ways to turn off inappropriate blood vessel growth to prevent further damage. This is an interdisciplinary effort bringing together immunologists, vascular biologists and signaling experts to understand the subtle workings of this important biological response in hopes of developing a much more targeted treatment, presenting fewer side effects and complications than those currently available.

The second approach is to develop ways to regenerate the retina once damage has occurred.  Our regenerative medicine program is using stem cells and nerve precursor cells, as well as other strategies, to regrow damaged retinal tissue. This work has already shown strong results in the laboratory and we are now engaging with corporate partners to bring these important insights closer to clinical application.