Amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye, is a eye disorder noted by poor or indistinct vision not correctable by glasses or contact lenses and is not due to any eye disease. The brain, for some reason, does not fully acknowledge the images seen by the amblyopic eye.
The term "lazy eye" frequently used for amblyopia is inaccurate because there is no "laziness" of either the eye or the amblyope involved in the condition.
It is estimated that three percent of children under six have some form of amblyopia.
The new treatments developed in the Visual Neuroscience Group in the University's School of Psychology have not only reduced potential treatment times by an unprecedented amount, they have also proved that it is possible to treat amblyopia in adults. Early results suggest gains, that would have required around 120 hours of occlusion therapy to achieve, can be produced after just 10 hours.
The 60,000 project A Study of Perceptual Learning Effects in Amblyopia has been funded by the College of Optometrists. Amblyopia is a developmental problem in the brain, not the eye. The part of the brain dealing with vision from the affected eye develops abnormally as a result of atypical visual experience early in life. This results in markedly different levels of vision in each eye which cannot be remedied with spectacles.As well as looking at potential treatments for the condition, the study examines the level of neural plasticity in the adult brain the ability of a neural system to change with experience.
Amblyopia is thought to affect up to 2.5 per cent of people and accounts for around 90 per cent of all children's eye appointments in the UK. Occlusion therapy patching the normal eye for lengthy periods to 'train' the affected eye is the main treatment for amblyopia.
This EU-wide study has been funded by a European Consortium FP7 grant to the tune of 2.6m Euro. Professor Paul McGraw and Dr Ben Webb in the Visual Neuroscience Group will look at the effects and treatment of amblyopia in children. Other European institutions, including the University of Florence, the Max Planck Institute for Neuroscience and University College London, will examine the condition from the molecular level to its behavioural impact on animal models.
Researchers are looking forward to translate this new study to other conditions where recovery is limited due to restricted neural plasticity - including brain tumors, stroke, degenerative diseases and trauma.