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UCI surgeons implant tiny eye telescope for patients with macular degeneration

Vision-restoring device could improve quality of life for 15 million Americans

by Griffin RogersPublished: June 28, 2012 08:30 AM

Two UC Irvine ophthalmologists have successfully planted small telescopes in the eyes of patients suffering from macular degeneration. The medical feat, which uses the devices to restore portions of vision lost from the age-related disease, was the first of its kind in Orange County.

Dr. Marjan Farid was the first physician to complete the procedure in December 2011, when he implanted a 4-millimeter telescope in an 85-year-old Irvine woman’s left eye. This year, Dr. Sumit Garg repeated the surgery and implanted one in the right eye of a 94-year-old Anaheim man in May. UC Irvine’s Gavin Herbert Eye Institute is the only medical center in region and among the few nationwide to offer the new technology.

The telescope works by projecting an image onto a portion of the retina that hasn’t been damaged by macular degeneration, Garg explained. The disease damages the retina and causes blind spots at the center of a person’s field of vision, but the device makes it possible to perform several tasks again, including the ability to read, recognize faces and perform daily activities.  

In addition to improved vision, clinical trials have shown that the device increases patients’ independence and aids in social interactions, which will help the 15 million or so Americans that are affected by macular degeneration.

“Until now, there has been no mechanism, surgical or medical, to restore that central sight,” said Farid, UC Irvine’s director of cornea, cataract and refractive surgery. “These patients are now experiencing a quality of life that they’ve not enjoyed in many years. My patient is seeing her son’s face for the first time in more than a decade.”

Patients who received the implant work with vision specialists to retrain their brain and help them recognize the images projected through the telescope.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the device for use in patients with end-stage, and irreversible, macular degeneration. The device is a component of CentraSight, a patient-care program established by VisionCare Opthalmic Technologies, and is covered by Medicare.

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