East Kilbride optometrist helps to link myopia with high melatonin levels

Stephanie Kearney, an optometrist at the East Kilbride Specsavers, recently co-authored a research paper on the link between myopia and melatonin – the sleep-regulating hormone that controls the natural body clock. The study has paved the way for investigating whether disrupted sleep patterns in childhood are connected to short sight and, if so, whether behavioural interventions could help. We talked to Stephanie about her fascinating research.

How, and why, did you get involved with the study?
My interest in completing research in this area was sparked by the global increase in the number of people with myopia: there are now twice as many secondary school aged children diagnosed as there were 60 years ago. I completed a PhD at Ulster University over a three-year period, which investigated the association between myopia and environmental factors.

How did your research fit in with your paid work?
It was a full-time PhD completed in conjunction with supervising optometry student clinics at Ulster University. I also worked as a locum for companies such as Specsavers, working flexible hours in the evenings and at weekends to ensure I kept my clinical skills current.

What was involved in the study?
I assessed a group of young adults over a period of 18 months. Assessments included blood samples to determine their levels of melatonin, measurements of the length and curvature of their eyes and measurement of their prescription.

What was your role?
I recruited the participants, collected the measures, prepared the blood samples for analysis and analysed the data. In conjunction with my PhD supervisors, I then published a paper with these findings.

So what were the results?
Interestingly, we found that melatonin levels were more than three times higher in short-sighted participants, compared to participants who weren’t short-sighted.

What did you particularly enjoy about the work?
As this is the first study of its kind in humans, it was quite exciting! I also enjoyed developing new skills, such as blood sampling. The variety of my working week was also enjoyable, as I was teaching in Ulster University clinics during the week and doing eye tests and contact lens appointments at weekends.

So what’s next?
I work in practice, I’m studying to become an independent prescribing optometrist, and I also help with the supervision of student clinics at Glasgow Caledonian University. Research will always be a passion of mine, and I hope to incorporate it into my working week again.

Has your research helped you in your job?
It’s heightened my awareness that myopia is on the rise and that it’s associated with eye diseases/ conditions such as glaucoma and cataract, which have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life. I’m also excited by how varied work as an optometrist can be!

  • You can read the paper here

Shirley-Ann Kennedy, director of Specsavers’ East Kilbride store, says:

‘Stephanie has worked hard to gain her PhD and we’re very proud of her achievements. The results of her research have been fascinating. We’ve asked Stephanie to run one of our staff training sessions so the team can be informed of the results of her research, which I think will be really useful to everyone.

‘Stephanie is a great example of what can be achieved in our profession. We’re very happy to accommodate Stephanie in her research by flexing her days up and down as necessary to allow her to continue her great work. We need people like her within our profession to ensure that it keeps moving forward.

‘We encourage and support all our staff to be the best they can be, no matter what role they have in store. We’ve supported numerous members of staff in obtaining their degrees and in lots of different aspects of further education. It’s very rewarding to be able to give someone a helping hand to achieve their goals.’

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