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Research studies focusing on causes of severe sight impairment (SSI) certifications correlated to the number of clinical studies registered in the UK.

Researchers at the Eye Research Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK, have published a report highlighting a correlation between registered clinical studies on leading causes of severe sight impairment (SSI) and the percentage of SSI certifications in the UK.  While there was correlation in the general population, there was no correlation among the working-age population in the UK (aged 16-64 yrs).  The peer-reviewed study (Clinical Ophthalmology 2023:17 2729–2735) stated that, “[w]hilst it is crucial to research the leading causes of SSI in the general population, more clinical research into eye conditions that severely affect working-age individuals is important due to the significant health and socioeconomic impacts. Addressing conditions with low clinical research activity, such as disorders of the visual cortex and congenital anomalies of the eye, is essential in ensuring that leading causes of SSI are well researched. This work aims to inform future clinical research priorities to address current gaps and areas of clinical need”.

The researchers in Cambridge, and in the University of Oxford, assessed the leading causes of SSI certifications in the UK general population and the corresponding number of clinical studies registered.  According to their paper, severe sight impairment (SSI) is defined as being “so blind that they cannot do any work for which eyesight is essential”, and this includes a visual acuity on the Snellen scale that “falls into one of the following categories: less than 3/60 with a full visual field, between 3/60 and 6/60 with a reduced visual field, or 6/60 or above but with clinically significant reduced field of vision”.  Such loss of vision may cost the UK economy of £25.2 billion a year, and growing as the population ages. However, the correlation on the general and working-age group populations showed a different pattern:

Adapted from Clinical Ophthalmology, 2023:17 2729–2735.

According to their research, clinical research activity on the leading causes of SSI was positively correlated to the percentage of SSI certifications in the UK general population (Spearman’s rho = 0.86, p < 0.01). However, the relationship was not seen for the working-age population, where conditions accounting for the most SSI certifications are less clinically researched than those causing the most SSI in the general population (Spearman’s rho = 0.15, p = 0.70). Commenting on their research, the lead author Dr. Jasleen Jolly, Associate Professor at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “[o]ur research found that degeneration of the macula and posterior pole is the leading cause of SSI certification in the general population and is the subject of the most research activity. However, hereditary retinal disorders are the predominant cause of SSI certifications in the working-age population, yet the number of clinical studies focusing on this group of conditions is substantially smaller than those on macular degeneration. These findings emphasise the need to understand and address not only the leading causes of sight loss in the UK population as a whole, but also to prioritise conditions that severely impact working-age individuals to reduce the health and socioeconomic impacts of sight loss.”