Doctors believe they know what causes nearsightedness in kids

FOX 32 NEWS - Doctors at Northwestern University have made an exciting new discovery that could eventually determine whether your children will need to wear eye glasses. 

Eye exams are an annual routine for school aged children. It’s often the first time parents learn their child has the common eye condition called Myopia, meaning they are nearsighted and can't see far away.

For years, no one could pinpoint why this happens. But the answer may have just been discovered in a Northwestern University Laboratory.

"Running into a discovery like this is one of the exciting things about Science,” said Northwestern Scientist Greg Schwartz.

What Schwartz and his colleague Adam Mani ran into was a specific cell in the retina that may cause Myopia when it dysfunctions. This newly discovered cell is highly sensitive to light and controls how the eye grows and develops.

They believe that as children spend more time indoors, the fluorescent lights inside cause the cell to dysfunction, tricking the eye into thinking it's seeing 20/20. That causes the retina to grow too long, resulting in Myopia.

"Artificial lighting like the fluorescent lighting in this room has lots of red, green contrast that sunlight does not, and that can fool this cell in particular into thinking the world is more focused than it is,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz and his colleagues were actually studying retinal cells so they could make artificial retinas to someday cure blindness. In the study, they used microscopic glass electrodes to record electrical signals from cells in a mouse retina. Those images present patterns of light on a digital projector. That’s when they realized one particular cell was highly sensitive to light and slow to respond. 

Now that this discovery has been found, what's next?

"Now we want to trace it in the brain and see if it actually controls things like changing your lens and pupil to focus an image and we want to find a gene to knock out this cell in mouse model,” Schwartz said.

That means the long term goal is to prevent Myopia from occurring and find a future treatment to control this condition for good.

This study is part of a larger body of research that could hopefully lead to gene therapy to treat blindness and improve the function of artificial retinal prosthetics.