Game-changing research in sight for fight against Glaucoma 

A ground-breaking study that’s currently underway in New Zealand is a potential gamechanger for the early detection of glaucoma. 

This study is one of many research projects, supported by Glaucoma NZ, that are being undertaken by New Zealand researchers to try and save unnecessary sight loss for thousands of Kiwis. Many people have no idea that they even have glaucoma, which is why it’s commonly referred to as ‘the thief of sight’. 

Dr William Schierding and Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer are conducting the research. They are using machine learning (AI) to develop a revolutionary glaucoma risk score for individuals that better predicts the likelihood of developing glaucoma based on environmental and biological profiles. This research is important as vision loss caused by glaucoma cannot be repaired, but further eyesight loss is preventable with early detection and treatment. 

The research findings will enable health providers to proactively target high-risk groups through earlier identification of those with high-risk profiles. This will ensure that limited resources can be prioritised to deliver better community outcomes. 

This Glaucoma Awareness Month, Glaucoma NZ is highlighting the importance of this and other research, educating Kiwis about glaucoma, and promoting regular eye health checks for those aged over 45. Their annual Awareness Month kicked off on 01 March, with the highlight being World Glaucoma Awareness Week from 6 to 12 March. 

It is estimated that 50,000 New Zealanders are unknowingly living with glaucoma, one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness. Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. Most people experience no symptoms in the early stages and the only way to know if you have it is to have an eye test. 

It took just eight weeks for Jack Pierce’s life to be turned upside down following his diagnosis with glaucoma. At 59 years old, Jack attributed the deterioration of his sight to natural aging and like many Kiwis, he wore over the counter (hobby) glasses to help with reading. He was in the supermarket when he noticed that the fluorescent lights made his eyes water and his vision appeared blurry.

He was referred to an eye specialist who told him bleakly, “I can help with better prescription glasses for the pterygium (natural deterioration of vision), but you have a far bigger problem… glaucoma.” Within two months of seeing blurry lights in a supermarket, he had lost his driver’s license, lost his job and his life had changed forever. 

“I never thought it would affect me.…. and I thought the ready-made reading glasses I’d bought from the supermarket were improving my vision, but now I realise how important eye health checks are and encourage everyone over 45 to book theirs in with their local Optometrist today”; Pierce says. 

With the help of his eye care specialist, and support from Glaucoma New Zealand, and his family and friends, Pierce has started to adapt to life with glaucoma. He has a new job, conveniently in the same company as his son who can drive him to work, and he is enjoying the freedom his e-bike gives him to hit the tracks on his day off. His eye drops have his eye pressure under control to help to prevent further eyesight deterioration. 

Professor Helen Danesh Meyer, Chairperson of Glaucoma NZ says; “The research supported by Glaucoma NZ is one of the many ways that we help to reduce unnecessary eye loss due to glaucoma for New Zealanders like Jack. The invaluable information that research such as this provides will enable us to direct our limited resources into priority areas and provide benefits to those who need it most.” 

“This Glaucoma Awareness Month, we’d like our message to reach as many Kiwis as possible and find those 50,000 of us, such as Jack, who are living unknowingly with glaucoma. The best way to protect your sight is to have a regular eye test including an optic nerve check – it’s simple and painless.” 

This month, as part of their Eye Believe campaign, Glaucoma NZ are asking the public to submit their ideas about what can be achieved with investment into glaucoma research and education to go into the draw to win prizes. In conjunction with sponsors Specsavers, Clinicians and One Foundation, they are challenging all health professionals to join them to encourage 45+ Kiwis to get an eye health check and reduce unnecessary blindness from glaucoma.

For more information about Glaucoma New Zealand visit Glaucoma New Zealand.

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