The Grand Prize at the 2018 Geneva Inventions Fair went to the creators of an optic lens that can slow or even stop myopia progression in children.
An exclusive interview with the prize recipients.
Text and images by Anna Aznaour, PR Journalist (Translated by Pascal Blaser)
The past four decades have borne witness to a rise of pandemic proportions in child myopia, with Asia1 consistently recording the strongest growth. China is the most adversely impacted country of all. According to the national data expounded by Professor Li Ling, 700 million Chinese people will be living with myopia by 2020.
Mindful of this daunting reality, two optometrists from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University— Professor Carly Lam and Professor Chi-ho To— have dedicated the last 20 years to developing an optical lens consisting of over 400 microlens segments. This lens slows or even stops myopic progression in children through corrected defocus in the retinal periphery.
This invention, termed DIMS (Defocus Incorporated Multiple Segments), has proven very successful in clinical trials.
How did you come about this research?
Professor Carly Lam: We began by working on the theory of retinal defocus. With the help of this new focalization, we were able to control neural signals in the retina. These maneuvers were aimed at properly managing the eye’s axial length, which tends to reach excessive proportions in myopia. Once we discovered that this theory could really help us control the favorable development of the eyeball, we proceeded to animal testing followed by clinical trials on children.
Grand Prize winners Carly Lam and Chi-ho To at the 2018 Geneva Inventions Fair
How many children partook in your trial and what were the outcomes?
Professor Chi-ho To: Some 160 Chinese children aged 8 to 13 participated in our trial between August 2014 and July 2017. Among them was my daughter, who was 8 years old at the start of the procedure. All of our young human subjects were affected by myopia to varying degrees, namely between 1 and 5 diopters. Our subjects were also affected by astigmatism or anisometropia of 1.5 diopters or less. The myopic experimental group wearing our DIMS consisted of 79 children, including my daughter. The myopic control group consisted of 81 children wearing traditional lenses. 60 percent of the children in the experimental group showed a 0.38 diopter increase compared to a 0.93 diopter increase in the control group. Additionally, myopia progression completely stopped in 21.5 percent of DIMS wearers, including my daughter. Such was the case for merely 7.4 percent in the control group.
What sets your lenses apart from the rest and when will they be commercialized?
Professor Carly Lam: The DIMS lens consists of a central optic zone surrounded by approximately 400 micro lens segments. The correction of the myopic refractive error takes place all around these segments. With the help of these lenses, the eyeball continuously adapts to both near and far images received by the retina in order to provide its wearers with crystal clear vision. As for appearance, the lenses have a smooth surface not unlike conventional single vision lenses. They will be manufactured by the Japanese company Hoya, with large-scale commercialization planned for this summer (2018) in China and for early 2019 in Japan, the United States, and Europe. They are already available at our Hong Kong2 office.
Poster at the Intervention Conference in Geneva
What advice would you give parents of myopic children?
Professor Chi-ho To: I would tell them to pry their children from their screens and lead them into the great outdoors.
Some studies show that two hours of daily exposure to natural light can slow myopia progression. Our colleagues in Germany, for instance, advise parents to limit their six-year-olds’ screen exposure to one hour per day.
Computer use in primary school has become commonplace in Switzerland. Is this a threat to children’s eyesight?
Professor Carly Lam: It all depends on each child’s initial eye health, the duration and frequency of screen exposure, as well as the specifics of their own eye development. However, longitudinal studies would have to be undertaken in order to glean the objective influence of these computer devices on the quality of child eyesight. We would be delighted to measure the long-term effects of the DIMS lens on children in collaboration with our colleagues. It would be interesting to compare myopia development in European versus Asian DIMS wearers.
What would a study measuring the effects of screen exposure on myopia look like?
Professor Chi-ho To: All children would undergo a complete eye exam before school entry and an annual follow-up until the end of their schooling.
The children would then be divided into two groups: a group mainly engaging in screen-based learning and another engaging in traditional learning.
The influence of screen exposure could thus be measured by comparing the prevalence of myopia in adults with the axial elongation development of these two groups.
Granted, the influence of external factors such as excessive gaming during leisure time must also be taken into account.