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Emerging treatments in amblyopia

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Amblyopia affects about 4 per cent children globally.

Recent research on amblyopia (commonly known as lazy eye) reviewed the impact of the disorder on the brain. Led by Bas Rokers, Associate Professor of Psychology, NYU Abu Dhabi, the paper has been published in the Journal of Binocular Vision and Ocular Motility.

Amblyopia is the most common developmental visual disorder, affecting about four per cent of children globally. Treatment using traditional methods (patching) is only successful in about half of cases. The paper lays the groundwork for evaluating the impact of new treatment methods including virtual reality-based video games, that force the two eyes to work together, as well as neuropharmacological interventions that can induce neural plasticity past the critical period. In an interview with Omnia Health Insights, Rokers explains more about the findings.

What is the impact of amblyopia on the brain?

Amblyopia is characterised by abnormal visual input to the brain during childhood, which leads to an abnormal developmental trajectory. While it is clear that this affects both the structure and function of the brain’s visual system, the exact nature and extent of the changes are an area of active research. Whether the effects of amblyopia can be reversed is an especially important area of study.

How can it be treated?

Standard treatment is through occlusion, i.e., patching of the dominant eye. Current research is exploring the potential additional benefits of virtual and augmented reality therapy as well as pharmacological intervention.

An important question is whether all amblyopia is the same – and can thus be treated with the same methods – or are there specific subtypes? Answering this question requires analysis of large datasets collected across multiple time points from a variety of patients. Should we find different subtypes of amblyopia with separate neural causes, this would suggest different, personalised, treatment for different patient populations.

We are currently exploring studies on the neural basis of amblyopia and potential new treatments in the UAE in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic.

How can neuropharmacological interventions help?

It is commonly held that intervention after about 7 or 8 years of age is ineffective, due to reduced neural plasticity in the visual system after that time. Neuropharmacological intervention might help ‘release the brakes’ on neural plasticity.

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Bas Rokers

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