Sight-Saving Hope for Aging Eyes
A new laser treatment to prevent age-related macular degeneration promises to save the sight of millions worldwide, according to British experts.
Any ophthalmologist can perform the new procedure, which still is under trial, in 15 minutes or less. Although the procedure does not cure age-related macular degeneration, it is said to stop its onset.
The malady, which is one of the most prevalent causes of blindness, results from the degeneration of an area about 5mm in diameter at the center of the retina. Its victims can neither read nor drive, making independent living difficult. In the United States, it affects more than 1.75 million people, and that number is expected to increase to 3 million by the year 2020 because of the aging of our population.
The noninvasive technique works by revitalizing or "energizing" cells in a thin layer at the back of the eye behind the retina called "Bruch's membrane." The cells in this membrane provide the light-sensitive retina with nutrients, and also remove waste products.
With age, their ability to remove wastes declines. A laser modified to give pulses of light stimulates the aging cells without harming the retina or causing dangerous heating, and the cells once again begin to clean up wastes.
Professor John Marshall at King's College London developed the technique. Marshall pioneered laser surgery for nearsightedness. As part of a second trial, he will treat several hundred people who have the disorder in one eye. Those who have the disease in one eye usually get it in the other within a few years. Marshall will treat the healthy eye to see whether the laser prevents it from developing the malady.
"If you can delay the onset by three, four, six, seven, or 10 years, it's proof of the principle," Marshall told the Daily Mail. "It is really exciting news. It won't bring back damaged eyesight but it may prevent AMD."
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