People who have to wear glasses in middle or old age could have their eyesight restored or even obtain “supervision” with the latest eye implants, a British surgeon says.
Light-adjustable lenses (LAL) offer the prospect of 20/20 vision to thousands of people who become short-sighted or develop cataracts with age.
The lenses are similar to existing lens implants, or intraocular lenses (IOL), used to treat cataracts. But doctors can adjust them after they have been implanted, tailoring the amount of correction to an individual’s needs and potentially eliminating the need for glasses.
The lenses, already in use in Germany and the United States, cost £600 each, ten times as much as standard IOLs. They are being offered for the first time in Britain to private patients having operations for cataract or presbyopia – age-related deterioration of sight – at the London Eye Hospital.
Bobby Qureshi, a leading eye surgeon who has so far used the technique in ten operations, said the total cost of an operation and adjustment would be up to £3,000 per eye, “but patients think it is worth it”.
“We have the potential here to change patients’ vision to how it was when they were young,” he added. “The technology allows us to make adjustments after the lens is in place and healing has occurred.
“The change is so accurate that we can even make the lens bifocal or varifocal, so as well as giving them good vision at distance we can give them good vision for reading. They won’t need their glasses at all.”
Mr Qureshi said that patients could achieve “better than perfect vision” because the adjustments could account for natural imperfections in the eye, known as high-order aberrations, that can subtly affect vision.
“This is probably the greatest advance in lens technology since the first ever intraocular lens was implanted
60 years ago,” Mr Qureshi said.
Increasing numbers of people in their fifties or sixties are electing to have IOL surgery. Traditionally, artificial lenses have been used to improve sight after the removal of cataracts, and more recently to tackle problems with distance vision.
According to MarketScope, the industry analyst, about 420,000 presbyopia-correcting IOLs were implanted around the world last year, up from about 301,000 in 2007. They can be bifocal but about 80 per cent of patients still require glasses for reading or other tasks, due to imperfections as the eye heals, or slight errors in measurement of the implanted lens.
By shining ultraviolet light on specific parts of the new LAL, surgeons can change its shape and curvature, sharpening the image seen by the patient.
The lens, made by Calhoun Vision, an American company, can be repeatedly adjusted before being permanently fixed two or three weeks after surgery.
Mr Qureshi, who also works as a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust, Redhill, said that NHS patients could be receiving the lens within a decade, as the costs decreased.
Larry Benjamin, a ophthalmic surgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and a vice-president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: “The LALs are a very interesting concept that has been under trial for two years in the United States.
“In theory you can adjust it to suit each patient exactly. The trials seem to give respectable data, but we haven’t seen long-term outcomes for large numbers of patients yet.