Academics & Research News

NIH grant boosts clinical trials on near-sightedness

UH and Ohio State’s colleges of optometry are about to begin randomized clinical trials focused on slowing down the progression of myopia, or nearsightedness, in children.

Known as the Bifocal Lenses In Nearsighted Kids study (BLINK), the fundings total $7.5 million, spanning four National Institution of Health grants. David A. Berntsen, an assistant professor at the College of Optometry, is the principal investigator at UH.

“This is a mutual, scientific partnership that is pretty well-shared between the two institutions,” said Donald O. Mutti, OSU professor and BLINK principal investigator. “Some of the early work for the project was done at OSU by Dr. Berntsen, but since he’s been at Houston, he’s conducted pilot studies and gathered the team.”

Myopia affects approximately one-third of Americans. Keeping in mind that nearly 60 percent of myopia begins in childhood, the main goal of BLINK is to diminish or halt myopia progression at a young age.

“Myopia is a real challenge for any kid who needs to wear glasses,” Mutti said. “They have to wear glasses to see clearly, which is inconvenient and expensive. The eye isn’t quite as healthy when it’s nearsighted as compared to when you don’t need glasses, and there hasn’t really been anything effective against myopia.”

In their approach to tackling myopia, BLINK’s investigators are utilizing bifocal contact lenses. Preliminary studies have suggested that these lenses slow down the growth of the eye and therefore, myopia.

“We’re using a specific bifocal contact lenses design that we know causes light in the periphery of the eye to be focused in front of the retina,” Berntsen said. There’s a lot of evidence over the years that has shown that the eye can respond by growing slower, but this has never been tested in a large, randomized clinical trial setting.”

According to a NIH project information page assembled by Berntsen, UH will recruit 147 children no older than age 11 to wear either single-vision soft contact lenses or center-distance soft bifocal contact lenses for a minimum of three years.

“Our control group will be kids wearing standard contact lenses typically prescribed by an eye doctor,” Bernsten said. “By making sure protocol is standardized and mirrored in both sites, we are able to look at the data over time to pull it all together collectively, reaching outcomes.”

Aside from accuracy, another key component of this collaboration is financial. BLINK’s four grants, each describing different aspects of the study, had to be simultaneously submitted.

“With this kind of grant mechanism, all the grants are funded or none of them are funded,” Berntsen said. “It’s not uncommon in optometry to have large studies conducted at multiple sites in order to get enough patients to answer the questions that are asked.”

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