U.S. health officials have approved a first-of-its-kind technology to counter a leading cause of blindness in older adults — a tiny telescope implanted inside the eye.
The Implantable Miniature Telescope aims to help in the end stages of incurable age-related macular degeneration, a creeping loss of central vision that blocks reading, watching TV, eventually even recognizing faces.
The idea: Surgically insert the Implantable Miniature Telescope into one eye for better central vision, while leaving the other eye alone to provide peripheral vision. The brain must fuse two views into a single image, and the Food and Drug Administration warned that patients need post-surgery rehabilitation to make it work.
There’s little to help such advanced patients today aside from difficult-to-use handheld or glasses-mounted telescopes, while the new implanted telescope — smaller than a pea — can improve quality of life for the right candidate, said Dr. Malvina Eydelman, FDA’s ophthalmic devices chief.
But it’s only for a subset of the nearly 2 million Americans with advanced macular degeneration, Eydelman warned: Those 75 and older, with a certain degree of vision loss, who also need a cataract removed. In fact, the FDA took the highly unusual step of requiring that patients and their surgeons sign a detailed “acceptance of risk agreement” before surgery, acknowledging potential side effects — including corneal damage and worsened vision — and the need for lots of testing to determine who’s a candidate.
“We’re not giving people back 20-year-old eyes,” cautioned ophthalmic surgeon Dr. Kathryn Colby of Harvard and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.