Albinism study shows child's future vision impairment can be foretold

Tue, Sep 25, 2012, 01:00

NEW IRISH research into albinism will help give parents a better understanding of how the condition will affect their children in later life, it has been claimed.

Dr Sarah Chamney, who is one of the speakers at the first conference in Ireland on albinism on Saturday, said there was now a greater understanding of the genetic nature of albinism.

The conference in the Fairways Hotel, Dundalk, is being organised by the Albinism Fellowship UK and Ireland.

Albinism is a distinctive genetic condition which affects about one in 10,000 people in Ireland. There are two forms: oculocutaneous albinism which is characterised by white hair and very pale skin, and light-coloured irises; and ocular albinism where only the eyes are affected.

Most people with albinism experience poor eyesight. Albinism is one of the three top conditions for visual impairment in children.

At the conference, Dr Chamney, an ophthalmologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, will explain the results of the Northern Ireland Nystagmus and Albinism (NINA) study.

It was carried out by PhD student Natasha Healey who has studied 100 people in the North of all ages with albinism. Nystagmus is an eye twitch condition commonly, though not exclusively, associated with albinism.

According to Dr Chamney, Dr Healey has been able to demonstrate that it is possible to calculate the extent of future vision impairment by examining the fovea of children who are suspected of being on the albinism spectrum.

The fovea is the part of the retina at the back of the eye which is responsible for the acutest vision.

“She found that some children have normal foveas and others had abnormal foveas. The more abnormal their fovea was the worse their vision turned out,” Dr Chamney explained.

She said the results were “exciting” as they demonstrated that albinism is a spectrum and that some children’s eyes will be worse affected than others.

Those interested in attending should contact Treasa O'Callaghan on 086 3789294.