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Smoking and Eye Health

The Stoptober campaign has been launched by Public Health England (PHE) and should so far see smokers just over their first week off the cigarettes. An ambitious project to ask the millions of smokers in Britain to give up for one whole month I think but if you can do it for a month, surely you can do it forever! I suppose that’s the inherent message. According to the PHE, it is x5 times more probable that those who break the habit for 28 days, will stay off the fags for life. Seemingly, the number of smokers in Britain dropped significantly last year after the Stoptober campaign so it’s got to be worth a go.

With 100,000 people dying from a smoke related illness each year in Britain, more importantly, 600,000 adults AND children die every year across the globe from secondhand smoking. Things really need to change and soon, but the Stoptober campaign advertises itself as the fun way to quit smoking.

The month of October also brings us World Sight Day on the 9th of October. This year the Public Health Agency (PHA) is focusing hugely on the effects of smoking on eye health. People always associate smoking with illnesses such as lung cancer or heart disease, but in fact, vision is seriously affected by smoking, even complete loss of sight is a possible side effect of smoking. The eyes are very fragile and chemicals found in cigarettes and the smoke from tobacco can interfere with the cornea, tear production, and blood vessels inside of the eye, to name but a few associated problems.

Unfortunately, stopping smoking won’t reverse any damage done to the eyes but it will stop the associated problems worsening and stave off more serious complications associated with smoking and the eyes and, overall health.

Stoptober is an exciting challenge and if you’ve missed the first few days, start now by yourself, knowing that thousands of others are in the same boat for the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. This month could be the beginning of the rest of your life.

You can read more about Stoptober here.

Research developments may lead to new amblyopia treatments

A recent study has found out new information about the brain and the way that the organ communicates with the eyes. This research, published in the journal Nature, could lead to a better understanding of the plasticity of the brain and new treatments for the condition called amblyopia (commonly known as ‘lazy eye’).

While the brain develops, the visual system starts a process called ocular dominance. It is a normal process that aids the development of the eyes and the visual system. It allows the two eyes to compete for the middle ground, called binocular zone. However, if one of the eyes cannot effectively compete with the other, then this process causes an imbalance of vision. This process has been compared and fit into the plasticity model, which is the model that explains how the eyes can adapt differently to different external stimuli. According to plasticity in fact, the brain can develop new stronger connections if enough cells in the organ fire at the right times. However, this model also says that a specific amount of cells have to be firing in order for the brain to be able to change its behaviour and build stronger connections with the eyes.

Hence, this research was looking at how to explain ocular dominance plasticity. It has been found that when a mouse’s eye is patched, the firing of the cells gets reduced by about half just as expected. However the researchers discovered, by measuring the cells activity in the 24 hours afterwards, that the firing rate increased again.

They found that this increase that brought back the firing to the normal range was due to a brain circuit that usually has been found to inhibit the cell’s firing. Hence, this brain circuit could be the answer to finding new treatments to the ‘lazy eye’ condition. Medications could be developed to help ‘turn on’ this circuit. This might lead to visual improvements for older patients.

For more information and to purchase the access to the complete study, please visit the article page in the website of the journal Nature.

Bacteria and Eye infections: good news

The Journal PLoS One has published a recent study on how good bacteria can counter-act and fight bad bacteria, found in the eye, that are becoming more resistant to antibiotics, infect the eye and can lead to blindness.

The bad bacteria in question are Serratia marcescens and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The good bacteria are Micavibrio aeruginosavorus and Bdellovibrio baceriovorus.

Here’s how they tested both in a three-part experiment.

The first part of the research was conducted to see whether the first two (the bad bacteria) actually die because of the last two (the good bacteria).

The second a third experiments were done to see whether the ‘good’ bacteria are actually not harmful to the eye. The second tested the bacteria on the cells that are present in the human eye. The results were that the bacteria did not inflame or irritate the eye cells at all.

In the third experiment, they tested again the bacteria against worms. While the worms died quickly after the injection of the bad bacteria, they had an 11-day survival rate (survival between 93.3 and 100%) after the injection of the good bacteria, suggesting that the bacteria was not harmful to their existence.

After these preliminary tests that exhibited very positive results, we await new tests and research on humans, as it seems that the good bacteria, or predator bacteria, can live in the eye without causing any damage to it and can help eliminate the bad bacteria, or the pathogenic bacteria.

For more information on this research, please visit: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130620191955.htm

‘Lazy Eye’ treated playing Tetris?

This week we want to discuss a recent study that suggests that amblyopia, commonly known as ‘lazy eye’, can be treated by playing tetris.

First, though, it is best to discuss and talk about what the condition actually is.

What is Amblyopia?

Amblyopia is a lower-to-standard acquisition of images through vision. It can happen because the optic nerve is not transmitting the visual messages properly, or when the brain stops acquiring the image from one eye.
Why would the brain do that?
The brain can stop getting an image from one of the eyes because of different reasons. For instance, it could be due to strabismus. In this case, it happens when the brain perceives the images from the two eyes to be different (i.e. it understands that double-vision is occurring).
How can Amblyopia be treated?

Amblyopia is not an intrinsic neurological problem. Rather, it is an acquired bad habit. In patients with amblyopia there is nothing wrong with the eye itself. Hence, because it is a problem of developmental nature, the brain can be re-taught to “see” from the weaker eye.
Since now, most of the treatments were thought to be effective only in children. The main treatment was to occlude the strongest eye, either with an eye-patch or by applying drops of atropine. This would force the brain to acquire the image from the weakest eye, and would strengthen the communication between the two.
What is this new research showing?

The aforementioned treatment applications have not been successful with the majority of adults. This recent academic report, however, has found a new approach that can help adults with amblyopia. This report was published in the journal Current Biology and conducted by Li et al. The researchers have found that the brain still maintains a level of plasticity in adulthood. However, it has not been tackled in the right way. This research suggests that covering the strongest eye might be detrimental, indeed, to curing amblyopia. What these researchers did was to force the eyes to work together.

Why tetris?

Here’s where tetris comes along: one eye was forced to see the blocks falling and the other eye was only allowed to see the ground where they would fall. After two weeks, patients had already improved vision. Further studies are needed to confirm whether covering the strongest eye might indeed not be the best treatment to cure amblyopia. In any case, this remains an interesting research. The journal article of this research can be found here.