Eye doc only Asian to win Bayer grant

SINGAPORE - A local eye specialist has won a US$25,000 (S$30,860) international research grant for a study that will pave the way to simpler diagnosis of a major cause of blindness in Singapore.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), an eye disease that progressively destroys a person's central vision, is the second most common cause of blindness here - after cataracts - affecting those aged 40 and above.

The Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) treats about 10 new cases of AMD each month, of which about half belong to a sub-type - Polypoidal Choroidal Vasculopathy (PCV) - that is common among Asians.

The current method for diagnosing PCV involves an eye test that is costly, time consuming, and causes side-effects in a small group of patients. It is not available at all eye centres, so the PCV sub-type sometimes goes undetected.

For her study, Dr Gemmy Cheung, 39, looked at identifying clinical signs common in patients suffering from PCV.

With the results of her study, she will be able to develop a five-step analysis, which will be ready in about a year's time, to pinpoint cases that require the eye test for PCV.

"Low-risk PCV patients would thus be able to avoid extra tests, while high-risk cases are quickly referred for the appropriate investigation," said Dr Cheung.

This is important because AMD, unlike cataracts, is an irreversible form of blindness. About two years after the condition takes hold, blindness occurs. Early detection and treatment, therefore, are vital.

"Many elderly people expect their vision to be not so good at their age, and just accept it, without seeking any treatment. There is room to improve in terms of AMD awareness," she said, adding that about 20 per cent of patients are already at an advanced stage when they see a doctor.

Symptoms of AMD include blurred vision, as well as distorted vision. A straight line, for instance, appears to be wavy. Those at risk are the elderly, smokers, people with cardiovascular diseases, or individuals with a family history of AMD.

The consultant ophthalmologist from SNEC's medical retinal service is the only Asian to win the inaugural Global Ophthalmology Awards Programme, launched by Bayer HealthCare.

There were 61 applicants from around the world. The other winners were from Italy, the United States, China and the Netherlands.