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Oct 27

How exercise may improve your sight – The Science Show – ABC Radio National – ABC News

Robyn Williams: Now for our final young star we have an ABC Top Five, linking a treatment for near blindness with exercise. He's introduced by our own Natasha Mitchell

Natasha Mitchell: Our next Top Five scholar is doing work that will change millions upon millions of people's lives, and it's also a reminder that getting up and walking, even running away from our desks, has countless benefits. Dr Joshua Chu-Tan is a post-doc fellow and associate lecturer at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University Medical School. Since his PhD in 2019, Joshua has continued his research looking for novel therapies to treat the leading cause of blindness in the developed world; age-related macular degeneration.

Joshua Chu-Tan: A bit of background about me, I was born in Texas, I was raised in New Zealand, and then I came here for uni. My mum is from Taiwan, my dad is from the Philippines, and his mum is from Spain.

I was always interestedI did a medical science degree and was at a bit of a crossroads whether I should do research or whether I should do medicine. I did my honours year just because I was, like, you know what, I'll give it a shot, I'll give research a shot, see what it's like, and I just fell in love with it. I really enjoyed being at the forefront of human knowledge, being able to find something and knowing that you are only a handful of people that knows that bit of data in the world. It was a very cool feeling. I want to combine my passion outside of work with my work, and my passion outside of work is sport, is exercise, I love it.

So we work on the retina. It's the thin tissue that lies at the back of our eye, and I like to say that it's responsible for all of our sight. That might be biased but scientifically it's also true because the light that enters into our eye, it hits the retina, the retina converts it into an electrical signal, sends it to the brain and eventually forms images that we see every single day.

We work on a specific disease called age-related macular degeneration, it is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world. One in seven Australians over the age of 50 will get it at some point in their lives, it costs the economy up to $5 billion per year, and there is no cure or therapy for the most common form, the form that accounts for 90% of patients with AMD.

It's similar to every other neurodegenerative diseaseI'm talking about Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's diseasein that they are incredibly complex, they are incredibly multifactorial. So a multi-targeted approach, researchers know now, is really what is needed, and that's why I started to look at exercise because, as you've probably heard your entire lives, exercise is awesome, it's great. We all know how good it is for us. But just why is it so good for us, and how can something that affects our muscles actually affect our brain and, we are starting to find out, our retina? We found it's actually really similar to the endocrine system. So your muscles can actually release signals when they exercise, and these signals reach everywhere in the body. I'm talking about the brain, I'm talking about the retina.

So in essence our body has this natural built-in therapy from exercise because it's creating all these molecules and sending it to our brain, sending it to our eyes, they are seeing all these benefits, why can't we harness that? Why can't we find out what's in it with its natural carry molecule and use that as a therapy? Given that neurodegenerative diseases are all age-related, it's very likely that exercise at the intensity needed to provide a benefit to the brain and eye may not be physically sustainable long-term.

Our ultimate goal is that we want to prescribe the molecular message of exercise to those who may physically not be able to. Thank you.

Robyn Williams: Dr Josh Chu-Tan from the Australian National University, John Curtin School. We were discussing why we evolved with such good eyesight maintained by exercise, and you can hear the connection implied in the program Sporty on RN, Amanda Smith reported how we hunted for a couple of hundred thousand years by outrunning or even walking while hunting fast animals. Even speedy quarry got worn out. So, just imagine, you needed good eyesight to cover all that rough terrain for hours. Josh's research really looks promising.

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How exercise may improve your sight - The Science Show - ABC Radio National - ABC News

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