In a world-first study, research Optometrist Srujana Sahebjada is investigating whether myopia (short-sightedness) and keratoconus share a common genetic basis.
The ambitious PhD student, who is working with CERA, hopes her research will one day contribute to a cure for the diseases.
“I’ve always been interested in myopia, primarily because it runs in my family, but also because of its prevalence and the severity of some forms of the disease,” Srujana said.
Myopia is a serious public health issue, affecting around one in four Australians over forty. It’s estimated that around two billion people world-wide are myopic and by 2020, more than one-third of the world’s population is expected to have myopia.
I’ve always been interested in myopia, primarily because it runs in my family, but also because of its prevalence and the severity of some forms of the disease
There’s strong evidence to suggest that myopia runs in families, with research showing children of myopic parents are at least four times more likely to develop the condition.
Having started working on myopia, Srujana consulted with colleagues in the Ocular Genetics Unit, and decided to expand her study to include the degenerative eye condition, keratoconus.
Despite the increasing prevalence of myopia and keratoconus, there is still little known about what causes the diseases, or how to prevent or slow their progression.
“Research suggests there could be a link between the two conditions. We believe that either myopia predisposes keratoconus or vice versa,” Srujana said.
“I’m looking for similar characteristics between the two conditions and undertaking genetic linkage studies to identify whether the same genes are involved in both diseases,” she said.
“It’s hoped that by better understanding this relationship, we’ll be able to develop early diagnostic and treatment options to slow and prevent the conditions.”
For Srujana, working at CERA allows her to experience the best of both worlds – clinical and research.
“Recently, a patient of mine underwent a corneal transplant. One of her first visions since having her sight restored was of her young son eating noodles at the dining table. It was the first time she’s seen him feed himself! She was ecstatic. It’s the small things that encourage me.”