Bringing hope of sight to millions, UC Irvine ophthalmologists were the first in Orange County to implant a new device into patients in hopes of restoring sight that was lost due to age-related macular degeneration. In early December 2011, Drs. Marjan Farid and Sumit “Sam” Garg implanted the 4-millimeter telescopes into the eyes of two elderly patients.
The leading cause of blindness in patients over the age of fifty, macular degeneration destroys the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision, called the macula.
The macula serves to provide people with the ability to see objects clearly, making it difficult for those suffering from its damage to have trouble recognizing faces, driving, reading, or doing close work, such as sewing.
Although it is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults, the disease does not cause complete blindness. For this reason, those affected by it are referred to as having limited vision, a condition in which those patients can still see using their side or peripheral vision.
“It can happen very quickly. One day I was driving and things began to get blurry… the next I was entirely blind in the left eye,” said Irvine resident and sufferer of macular degeneration Henry Alvarez.
Although it will not repair the damage done, this new telescopic device attempts to restore limited vision by using telescopic technology to project an image onto the portion of the retina that remains intact, allowing their patients to once again see faces, read and operate freely in their daily lives again.
Dr. Farid, UC Irvine’s director of cornea, cataract and refractive surgery, commented on the telescopic technology being the first mechanism of its kind to restore central sight that is so important to the patients he sees.
Despite being a serious surgery, patients are willing to undergo it for the opportunity to see again. Previously, the alternative treatments were injections into the eye that had mixed results amongst patients, and often only worked significantly when caught early.
“The shots went directly into the eye, and were slightly painful. After, however, a little bit of my sight came back… not much,” Alvarez said.
Unlike the innovative technology discussed earlier, these treatments cannot reverse vision loss. Other treatments involve diet adjustment, drug injection into the eyes, laser surgery or photodynamic therapy, which also involves laser treatment. With laser treatments, the big risk is the fact that the surgery could destroy surrounding healthy tissue and can cause more blurred vision.
And, being a primarily age-related disease, the telescopic implant is an opportunity that is being offered to the elderly by being completely covered by Medicare. The implant has now become a central part to a new patient care program that is being developed by VisionCare Opthalmic Technologies, CentraSight.
The Gavin Herbert Eye Institute at UCI is one of only a few in the nation to perform the surgery with the new telescope after it was approved by the FDA in 2010. The preliminary clinical trials proved successful in improving the patients’ quality of life and social interactions by once again making it possible to read not only text, but facial expressions as well.