July 6, 2009

Pioneering Laser Treatment May Prevent Elderly Blindness

An innovative laser treatment may stop millions of elderly people from blindness, experts announced.

This new technique can reverse the results of age-connected macular degeneration, which is the foremost cause of blindness in people over 60.

Created by British eye expert John Marshall of King's College London, the pioneering laser refreshes the back of the eye to its once youthful condition.

Sight enhancement was already reported in the early concept trials.

AMD plagues 200,000 people in the UK alone and affects central vision. It occurs when the membrane near the back of the eye is congested with naturally occurring waste created by the light-sensitive cells, which then mucks up vision.

With younger eyes, enzymes sweep away the material, but as the ageing sets in, this system can gradually stop working.

The pain-free "short pulse" laser operates by releasing the enzymes to clean the waste out of the eyes without harming the cells that allow us to see clearly.

Early tests seemed optimistic as 50 people with diabetic eye disease responded positively. They were selected for the trial because the disease progresses faster than AMD.

Marshall now wants to conduct more research in patients with AMD in one eye with the goal of preserving the sight in their better eye for a long time.

Marshal said to BBC News that once people develop AMD in one eye, the condition usually appears in the second eye within 18 months to three years.

"If you can delay the onset by three, four, six, seven or 10 years, it's proof of the principle," he said. "What this laser is doing is trying to treat the underlying ageing process, as it were, reset the clock so that you don't have the manifestations of visual loss."

He added that the overall goal of the study was to avoid further damage and save their sight.

Marshall hopes that the treatment will become available in two to five years.

Tom Pey, head of external affairs for Guide Dogs for the Blind, said: "This is potentially a huge breakthrough for millions of people across the world."

A spokeswoman for the Macular Disease Society added that: "If it is shown to work it is an extremely exciting development and potentially a real breakthrough. It will not sadly be useful in those who have already lost their sight to AMD, but it may have great hope for the future."


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