Vision4children’s research into childhood cataracts began in 2012, thanks in part to a grant from the Alder Hey Charity. It is a joint project with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
Cataracts are the most common treatable cause of childhood blindness and visual impairment worldwide. Childhood cataracts need early detection and urgent treatment. This is because children’s brains will “shut off” their vision message-carrying pathways if signals from the eye become interrupted. After a short time, this “shut off” can become permanent, meaning that no future treatment of the eye can restore sight.
Cataract treatment should ideally include replacing the cataract within the eye with an artificial implant. Unfortunately, at present this is not possible for children as no research to pinpoint exactly what is “normal” eye development in children has been undertaken and we do not understand the rate of normal eye growth – information which is necessary in order to calculate the dimensions and power of the implant, and to know when it needs to be replaced with a larger one to fit the child’s changing eye. This means that a large proportion of children born with cataracts are left with visual impairment for the rest of their lives as the only means of correcting their sight, at present, is with glasses with very thick lenses, or contact lenses – which are very difficult for children to use.
The v4c team is conducting – and sharing – ground-breaking clinical research into the development of children’s eyes. The research is being undertaken in collaboration with hospitals in India and will enormously benefit children there, as well. Cataracts are more common in developing countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where contact lenses and other treatments are not available.
The researchers are using the latest technology to accurately measure the eye length, shape and thickness, to one hundredth of a millimetre. These measurements are being taken from hundreds of different children aged from 7 weeks to 7 years, in the UK and in India.
From the data collected, the team is developing charts which plot normal eye growth in children (in the same way that age-related height and weight charts are already available). With these charts it will be possible to predict more confidently how young eyes which require treatment are likely to grow, so the treatment can be adjusted as time passes to achieve the best possible eventual outcome.
This research into eye growth rates is expected to make possible complete cures for several causes of childhood blindness and will certainly make a big impact on how successfully cataracts in babies can be treated.
Many UK parents have already received letters inviting them to consent to their children taking part in the study. If you have received a letter, click here: Information Sheet PDF