Here Dr Lola Solebo explains what she will be talking about when she takes steps up on the soapbox..
“I’m a children’s eye doctor based at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and a researcher based at UCL GOS Institute of Child Health. My passion is preventing childhood blindness. Although it’s rare in the UK, across the world there are an estimated 4 million children with blindness or reduced vision. Children who are blind often have other health problems: for example, babies who are born blind are more likely than other babies to die in their first year of life. Outcomes are particularly poor in lower and middle income countries, and they have much higher rates of childhood blindness. The impact of lifelong blindness cannot be overestimated - both in terms of the welfare and happiness of each individual child and their family, and the enormous cost to health systems and society in general.
One of my particular interests is childhood cataracts - the biggest worldwide cause of preventable childhood blindness. For any baby diagnosed with a cataract, surgery needs to be carried out quickly – ideally in the first few months of life. But the initial operations are only half the battle. To give that child usable vision, they will need to wear contact lenses to improve their sight.
As you can imagine, inserting and removing contacts lenses into the eye of a baby or small child is extremely challenging. So, around 15 years ago doctors began using artificial lenses, inserted INSIDE the child’s eye to correct their vision. The technique was already working well with adults, and it seemed the benefits for small children would be even greater. However, a child’s unformed eye is very different to that of an adult - 90% of growth occurs in the first two years of life…
Our recently published, prize winning research has been a study across the UK and Ireland (called IoLunder2), assessing the treatment of childhood cataracts. We found that this procedure, which worked well for adults, was not the best practice for small children. Their eyes grew membranes over the artificial lens, and these infants often needed even more surgery. We’ve also shared useful findings on what predicts good vision, or other poor outcomes.”