Researchers find possible cure for childhood myopia

BETTER OPTION::Atropine has side effects such as increased susceptibility to damage from ultraviolet rays, so the team turned to genetics for an alternative

By Su Meng-chuan and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Jun 22, 2018 - Page 4

Taiwanese researchers have developed a potential alternative to atropine eye drops that could cure childhood pseudomyopia without the side effects from atropine use.

The experimental eye drops, which last year received the National Innovation Award, use ribonucleic acid (RNA) interference to reverse childhood myopia and are scheduled to begin clinical trials late next year.

Controlling pseudomyopia — a precursor to myopia — is an important task in preventive medicine, Juo Suh-hang (卓夙航), head of the research project and a professor at China Medical University’s Institute of New Drug Development, said on Monday.

While myopia’s effect on vision can be corrected, surgical procedures do not lessen the risks of retinal detachment, macular degeneration and glaucoma that accompany severe myopia in middle-aged or older people, Juo said.

The most commonly prescribed eye drops for pseudomyopia contain the active ingredient atropine, he said.

However, atropine induces pupil dilation, which causes light sensitivity, blurry vision and increased susceptibility to eye damage from ultraviolet rays, he added.

As the groups most likely to receive treatment for pseudomyopia are school-aged children and adolescents, such side effects are amplified by prolonged periods of study and outdoor activities, Juo said.

To find an alternative for atropine, his team turned to genetics and found that people with myopia have an excessive amount of microRNA-328, he said.

Rather than suppress the secretion of microRNA-328 — which could alter the patient’s genes — the team developed a synthetic substance that neutralizes microRNA-328 and inhibits gene expression, a technique known as RNA interference, he said.

Animal trials have shown the experimental drug to be three to four times more effective than atropine and capable of reversing myopic eye axis elongation, while avoiding the side effects caused by atropine-induced pupil dilation, Juo said.

Research data suggest that the drug could completely cure pseudomyopia in children with vision equal to or better than minus-5 diopter, while halting myopic progression in children with worse vision and adults, he said.

Should the new drug pass human trials, it would be commercialized in seven to eight years, he added.