A new product just approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is offering new hope to elderly patients with end-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The implantable, miniature telescope is considered breakthrough technology to help offset the effects of AMD, which results in functional vision loss and is the leading cause of blindness in older Americans.
Anatomy of the eye
Light enters the eye through the lens, which focuses the light onto special cells in the lining of the eye which is called the retina. The portion of the retina that is responsible for seeing up-close vision in clear detail is the macula. Light is converted by the cells in the retina and macula into electrical energy that is sent to the brain through the optic nerve.
During macular degeneration, the cells in the macula are damaged, either by fat deposits that cause scarring (dry AMD) or by extra blood vessels that form in the area and leak fluid into the surrounding tissue which damages the retina (wet AMD). In both types of age-related macular degeneration, the damaged cells in the macula are no longer able to convert light to electrical energy. The pieces of the image that should have been converted by those cells are never sent to the brain, resulting in a black hole in the center of the visual image.
AMD is a progressive condition. Generally, a small “hole” appears in the center of vision and grows larger over time as more cells inside the eye are damaged. The outer edges of the retina, which are responsible for peripheral vision, are usually undamaged, which can result in seeing an image similar to a donut where the edges are visible but blurry and the center or donut hole is missing.
Dr. Isaac Lipshitz of VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies, Inc. developed the new, implantable telescope to combat the effects of AMD. The device consists of an actual telescope the size of a pea. During surgery, the natural lens of the eye is removed and the telescope is inserted into the capsule in the eye where the lens had been located.