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Researchers Identify New Gene That May Cause Nearsightedness

November 8, 2011

A new defective gene may be the cause of myopia in children and adults.

Our daily lifestyle activities and day-to-day actions can play a large role in our overall health. For instance, maintaining a healthy diet full of vitamins and nutrients may help to prevent serious health problems such as diabetes or heart disease later down the road. Or, on a smaller scale, adding daily exercise and fitness to your everyday routine could do wonders to improve the health and longevity of your mind and body for many years to come.

However, your lifestyle choices and daily actions are not the only factors that lead to the onset of disease and serious health problems. Even if you are the most active, health-conscious person in your family, there may still be certain genetic defects embedded in your DNA that could to lead to potential problems or illnesses throughout your life. Some of these genetic problems may be as minor as headaches or allergies, or could be as serious as a chronic infection or disease.

One particular type of vision problem that has often been linked to genetics is myopia, or nearsightedness. This common eye disorder is a refractive error that produces clear vision for objects that are near, but blurs objects that are in the distance. When someone is nearsighted, they often find that moving closer to an object makes it clearer and easier to see.

While there are several lifestyle factors that may lead to the development or worsening of myopia, many researchers have often held the belief that this disorder has a strong genetic component. However, they had never before been able to isolate the gene that was responsible for nearsightedness―until now.

A research group at the Ben-Gurion University of Negev, led by Ohad Birk, M.D., Ph.D., have finally identified a mutation in the gene LEPREL1 as the culprit of myopia. By studying a common type of nearsightedness that is found in a specific Bedouin tribe in southern Israel, the group found that when this gene mutates, it causes the eyeball to become longer than normal. This, in turn, causes images to focus in front of the retina, rather than on it. This distortion leads to the development of myopia.

While this study is very promising to researchers and scientists who have been involved in long-term studies of myopia and genetic vision problems, future study results will determine whether or not this is always how nearsightedness develops, or if this process is specific to the Bedouin tribe that was studied.

In the mean time, if you believe that you suffer from the common symptoms of myopia―squinting to see clearly, sitting too close to computer or television screens, objects that are blurred when far away―be sure to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. There are currently several modalities that can improve the vision in a nearsighted patient including:  glasses, contact lenses, LASIK, LASEK, ICL, and refractive lens exchange.  As long as nearsightedness is taken care of early, simple steps can be taken to ensure that your eyes are corrected and your vision is the best that it can be.

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