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New Laser Surgery Zaps Cataracts

Posted Nov 17 2010 6:24pm

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
  Reuters Health Information Logo

By Maggie Fox

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Using a laser to take apart a lens clouded by cataracts can make the tricky eye surgery easier and more precise, doctors reported on Wednesday.

They employed a laser to break up the damaged lenses before taking them out and replacing them with an artificial lens.

"The results were much better in a number of ways - increasing safety, improving precision and reproducibility, and standardizing the procedure," said ophthalmologist Daniel Palanker of Stanford University in California, who led the study.

"This new approach could make this procedure less dependent on surgical skill and allow for greater consistency," Palanker, whose study was reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine, said in a statement.

His team used a laser made by ophthalmic device company OptiMedica Corp., based in Santa Clara, California.

"The precision was improved by far more than our expectations," Palanker said in a telephone interview.

Cataracts form when the eye's lens is damaged, often aging or long-term exposure to sunlight, clouding vision. The lens is a small bag of fluid that helps focus light in the eye.

Cataract surgery is very common. About one-third of people in the developed world will have it done at some point. The U.S. National Eye Institute says more than 1.5 million such procedures are done every year in the United States, making it the most common surgical procedure.

Cataract surgery is technically difficult and finesse is needed as any slip in the multi-step process can damage vision.

The cornea - the clear layer of tissue that covers the outside of the eyeball - must be sliced open, the lens broken apart and pulled out through a hole and a plastic lens inserted in its place.

The laser can be used to break up the lens with a few brief pulses, making it easier to remove and leaving a clear space for the plastic replacement, Palanker's team said.

The device also uses a precise imaging system to help aim the laser.

Palanker and colleagues tested the procedure in 50 patients and found it was safe.

"This will undoubtedly affect millions of people, as cataracts are so common," he said.

It will take some time before insurers will cover the procedure, Palanker said, and it will cost more than conventional cataract surgery at first. The laser device is not yet available in the United States and would need U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

"But there will be people who elect to have it done the new way if they can afford it. There are competitors coming out with related systems," Palanker said.

He said OptiMedica would seek FDA approval to further test the device in the United States. Two other companies - LenSx Lasers Inc and LensAR - are also developing devices, which use a laser similar to those used now to do LASIK procedures to improve vision.

SOURCE: http://link.reuters.com/pus78m Science Translational Medicine, November 17, 2010.

Reuters Health


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