Exciting developments in science and technology are constantly emerging, unravelling the mysteries of ageing eyes. Late last year, Stanford Medicine researchers used a novel liquid biopsy technique to examine thousands of proteins in eye fluids and identify drivers for disease, promising a deeper understanding of eye health and ageing.
Below is a round-up of recent advancements in the fields of optometry and ophthalmology, helping us understand more about the changes our eyes undergo as we age, as well as measures older adults can take to prevent and manage age-related vision issues.
Nanotechnology applications for the treatment of AMD
Scientists from Anglia Ruskin University, led by Professor Barbara Pierscionek, have utilised nanotechnology dubbed 'electrospinning' to create a 3D scaffold for growing retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. These cells, crucial for maintaining vision, are often affected by age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a common cause of blindness. The electrospun scaffold, when treated with a steroid protecting against inflammation, demonstrated increased resilience in the RPE cells, potentially revolutionising AMD treatment. With AMD projected to affect millions as the world's population ages, these findings mark a significant step in combatting AMD-related vision deterioration.
Precision medicine and genetic testing
Precision medicine is poised for significant advancements, transforming disease prevention and treatment by considering an individual's genetics, environment, and lifestyle. It's already being applied to inherited retinal dystrophies (IRDs), where genetic testing aids in identifying the genetic cause, enabling gene-specific management. This approach facilitates more accurate prognosis and genetic counselling and determines eligibility for gene therapy and clinical trials. The clinical use of genetic testing is expected to broaden across various ocular and syndromic conditions, predicting developmental risks based on genetics and ultimately creating optimism for innovative treatment methods in the near future.
Tips for preventing and managing age-related vision issues
Undergo a yearly eye exam
A host of age-related visual conditions can now be treated with medicine or outpatient surgery. The only caveat is that the problem must be caught and diagnosed early to limit the impact of age-related vision loss. This means getting a regular eye test, which has been made more accessible by optical retailer Vision Express. Healthy adults between the ages 55 and 64 are recommended to undergo eye exams every 1 to 3 years, while those aged 65 and over should get one done annually. Typically, a comprehensive eye exam will assess the presence of refractive errors, depth perception, optic nerve health, retina, and blood vessels via pupil dilation, glaucoma tests; ocular motility tests, keratometry or topography tests, and more.
Get checked for diseases that could cause eye problems
In the US, diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness and is the most common eye disease in people with diabetes. The early stages of diabetic retinopathy usually come with no symptoms, and vision changes may not occur until the disease progresses. As such, individuals with a family history of diabetes should undergo regular screening so that they can take the necessary steps to reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Fortunately, individuals can now get screened for diabetes at their GPs, and a recent drive in the UK saw 20,000 people become eligible for free screening.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Diet and lifestyle choices are controllable factors that are known to impact long-term eye health. For instance, studies show that smoking increases the risk of developing eye conditions like AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and dry eye disease. High blood pressure can also cause retinal damage, fluid buildup under the retina, or damage to the optic nerve. To prevent these vision issues, older adults need to build healthier habits by quitting smoking, having a nutrient-rich diet that includes antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, and regularly exercising.
These breakthroughs in nanotechnology, precision medicine, and genetic testing are paving the way for tailored treatments. Ultimately, ongoing research in these fields promises even more discoveries about eye health, showing that the collaboration between technology and science holds the key to revolutionising our approach to age-related vision changes.