Southampton clinicians launch leading-edge children's eye centre

Jay Self with patient in clinic

Clinicians and researchers at Southampton’s university hospitals have developed a leading-edge treatment and research centre for children with eye problems.

The paediatric ophthalmology clinic, based at Southampton General Hospital’s eye unit, is the first in the region to offer a complete range of services following the addition of dedicated children’s cataract and eye movement clinics, as well as research into a variety of genetic eye disorders affecting children and babies.

Staff now see patients ranging from birth to 18 years old and treat everything from complex squint and lazy eye problems, to congenital cataracts, eye movement disorders and inherited genetic conditions.

Mr Jay Self, one of the centre's four consultant paediatric ophthalmologists, is leading research into eye movement disorders, particularly congenital nystagmus, which is also referred to as ‘wobbly eye’ because it causes uncontrolled eye movement from birth and can be associated with a variety of seemingly unrelated medical problems.

In partnership with three patient-run charities – IN-vision, Nystagmus Network and the Gift of Sight Appeal – he has already collated one of the largest groups of sufferers in the world to help aid his research projects in Southampton.

“The development of this service, which includes within it specialist cataract and eye movement clinics, is fantastic news for families in the south of England as we really do cater for all aspects of children’s eye health,” said Mr Self, who is also a senior lecturer in ophthalmic genetics at the University of Southampton.

“But we don’t want to sit still and be stuck performing the basics, we want to be at the forefront of the latest developments and that is why we are leading the way in nystagmus research, as well as the development of new techniques for children’s cataract surgery and other treatments.”

Although there is not currently a cure for nystagmus, which affects around one in 1,500 people and is often inherited, Mr Self is using genetic techniques, eye tracking technology and modelling to build genetic profiles, work towards a genetic test and identify specific treatments.

Most sufferers are currently assessed using the common visual acuity test with a letter chart which, as it doesn’t account for everyday lighting and object movement, can give a false indication of the effect of the condition on eyesight.

Mr Self is working closely with colleagues from other UK centres to address this by using cutting-edge eye tracking equipment to help develop ‘real-world’ vision tests which model everyday life.

“We are trying to get away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to nystagmus,” he said. “We must avoid assessing people's vision purely by their ability to read a letter on a chart at six metres. “At the moment, many children only receive a descriptive diagnosis and, for most, we have no idea what has caused the condition, who else in the family might also inherit the condition or what we can do to help.”

He added: “We hope that, within the next few years, we can make significant strides towards changing this by improving diagnosis and treatment which should benefit many children and families.”

Posted on Tuesday 26 November 2013