Vision loss brought into focus

6 March 2007

Vision is the most valued of our five senses. A large part of our brain is devoted to processing the visual information that is transmitted to the brain from our retina. It is a miraculous system but, with age, our eyes deteriorate. By age 50 nearly everyone needs reading glasses for close work like reading and sewing.

This inability to focus up close is called presbyopia, and it is the speciality of Professor Roger Truscott from the University's Discipline of Clinical Ophthalmology.

Why do people get presbyopia when they are growing old? It turns out that the reason can be traced back to the lens of the eye, which becomes one thousand times harder during the course of our lives.

Professor Truscott and his team have also examined the cause of cataracts, a leading cause of world blindness. In Australia there are about 180,000 cases each year.

"We found evidence that nuclear cataracts result from the development of a barrier in the lens at middle age," he said.

Professor Truscott is now trying to find a way of preventing cataracts that would replace the only available method at present - treatment by surgery.

"We hope to be able to prevent it by using diet or eyedrops. To do that we need to understand precisely what happens to the lens before the barrier forms and the cataract develops," he said.

"In some areas like India, people get cataracts more frequently and on average ten years earlier than people in Western countries," he said. "But the reason still remains a mystery."

Professor Truscott and his team are also exploring whether there is a link between presbyopia - which happens in the 40-50 year age group - and cataracts, which typically appear a decade or two later.

In recognition of his work, Professor Truscott was recently awarded the Cataract Research Award from the National Foundation for Eye Research in the United States.
He will fly to the US to accept the award at a ceremony in Florida in May. He is the first Australian to be awarded the prize.

Professor Truscott moved from the University of Wollongong to Sydney University in 2005 and now works at the Save Sight Institute at the Sydney Eye Hospital. He is a National Health and Medical Research Council senior research fellow.

"I see my work as a journey of discovery into the human eye," he said. "Different eyes see different things; for example, humans can see the world in colour while in the eyes of most other animals, it is just black and white."

Contact: Richard North

Phone: 02 9351 3720