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Oxygen: Key To Common Eye Diseases

January 31, 2010

The key to treating eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy lies in understanding the distribution of oxygen in our retina, Professor Dao-Yi Yu from The Vision Centre and University of WA will tell an international scientific conference on vision in Sydney.

The Australian Neuroscience Society Satellite Meeting 2010: “From Photoreceptors to Behaviour” is being held at the Save Sight Institute, 8 Macquarie St, Sydney on January 29 and 30, 2010.

Oxygen is vital to the health of the visual cells in our eyes. “It’s like fuel to a car ““ we can’t operate without it,” Professor Yu says. “The retina which is responsible for the first stages of the visual process has a limited blood supply, so there’s a delicate balance between the high oxygen demand of our retinal cells and a limited supply. Oxygen is the most supply-limited substance in the human retina. When a slight imbalance occurs in the eye due to a lack of oxygen, our retina is stressed and this can lead to various eye diseases.

“By finding out where the oxygen is most needed in our eyes, we can treat eye diseases better by shifting the distribution of oxygen towards those regions.” Professor Yu explained. “This can actually preserve vision in some diseases.”

One example is diabetic retinopathy. Diabetics are often at risk of vision loss as the blood vessels in their eyes become blocked, choking off the delivery of oxygen to the retina.

“For decades, the way to prevent vision loss caused by diabetic retinopathy has been to destroy the peripheral retinal cells. This is thought to allow oxygen to reach the cells in the central part of the retina ““ where it’s needed most, because this area provide us with sharp, clear vision. ” Professor Yu described.

However, the destruction of these retinal cells often causes the loss of peripheral vision, night vision and color vision.

“Our research aims to restore people’s sight without destroying as many peripheral cells.” Professor Yu said.

The proposed procedure involves using less damaging lasers to treat the peripheral retina, but allow sufficient oxygen to support our central area of vision.

“The retina has a highly layered structure. By using special lasers with selective wavelengths and power modulation we can selectively thin out the cells in the outer retinal layers, provoking a natural shift of oxygen towards the inner retina.”

A number of groups of people are particularly at risk of loss of vision caused by oxygen starvation in the retina. The elderly are a major group affected, but people with cardiovascular diseases, hypertension or diabetes are also at risk.

The Australian Neuroscience Society Satellite Meeting 2010: “From Photoreceptors to Behaviour” is sponsored by The Vision Centre, which is funded by the Australian Research Council as the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science. Media are welcome to attend and interview the participants.

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