At the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) annual conference held in Las Vegas November 14-17, experts from the USC Eye Institute showcased research of breakthrough treatments and interventions that will dramatically impact the eye health of Americans across the lifespan – from childhood myopia to glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affecting seniors.

With a growing senior population – 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day – the early detection of eye diseases such as glaucoma and AMD can lead to the prevention of blindness. The CDC reports more than 26 million Americans over age 40 suffer from various eye diseases and according to Prevent Blindness America, the annual cost of adult vision problems in the U.S. exceeds $51 billion annually.

The USC Eye Institute has been involved in the clinical trials for the XEN implantable device for open-angle glaucoma patients for the last several years. Presenting the latest results of human clinical trials, Rohit Varma, MD, MPH and director of the USC Eye Institute, will showcase how the implantable gelatin device dramatically reduces pressure in the eye. Over the course of one year, the intraocular pressure (IOP) in the study participants was reduced 44 percent and IOP medications were reduced 65 percent. The gelatin stent is currently available in Europe and is expected to be approved by the FDA for U.S. patients next year.

“The XEN implantable device is a game-changer when it comes to treating glaucoma, especially for seniors,” said Dr. Varma. “There is currently no cure for the 3 million American seniors who are diagnosed with glaucoma and with no warning signs 50 percent of those with glaucoma do not realize they have it,” he continued. “Detecting glaucoma early through an annual eye exam and having new interventions such as this minimally invasive surgical gel stent is the next step in reducing blindness.”

Age-related macular degeneration
According to the CDC, 1.8 million people over age 40 are affected by age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The USC Eye Institute’s Andrew A. Moshfeghi, MD, MBA, will present research on the promising role of L-DOPA medication to delay or prevent the onset of AMD. The study has shown participants taking L-DOPA, originally used for Parkinson’s disease, restless leg syndrome and other movement disorders, are less likely to develop AMD or it develops years later than those not taking the drug. This study also shows the promise of Precision Medicine using electronic medical records (EMRs) as the original study results were confirmed in a larger data set of 87 million patients. In a separate session, Dr. Moshfeghi will also present research on the latest techniques in intraviteral injections for wet AMD to increase safety and efficacy.

In addition, Dr. Varma will present his research on the impact of dry AMD on reading speed and in macular degeneration patients. The reduction in reading speed can significantly impact the life quality of AMD patients making activities such as reading medical forms, legal documents or even watching TV more difficult.

Childhood Myopia/Near-Sightedness
On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Dr. Varma will be one of 10 experts on the “Myopia Matters!” panel debating the causes of the global increase in childhood myopia.  He points to research and statistics on near-work and low light activity for the alarming increase.

In China 60 years ago 10-20 percent of the youth population were near-sighted, today it is 90 percent and in Singapore 96 percent of 19-year-old men have myopia. While the U.S. increase is less dramatic, the number of American children with near-sightedness has doubled over the last 50 years.

The global phenomenon can be linked to an increase in indoor, low light, near-work activity. Although there is a genetic predisposition for myopia in East Asian cultures, some research shows children in China are spending up to 12 hours a day in near-work – activities that also have significant impact on the increase in myopia. Children in the U.S. spend less time than their Chinese counterparts – up to nine hours daily – but the impact is the same result of increasing near-sightedness at earlier ages.

“Children today spend many more hours in near-work and low light activity rather than spending more time outdoors where distant vision and natural light helps eyes to shape normally as spherical instead of the oblong or egg-shaped that we are currently seeing,” said Dr. Varma. “In addition to improving childhood vision health, more outdoor activity and less time spent on video games, computers, smartphones and tablets will also potentially help reduce the increase we have seen in childhood obesity.“

by Sherri Snelling