Doctors test vision loss treatment

September 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new treatment tested in the Bay Area could offer hope for one of the most common forms of vision loss--macular degeneration. It affects millions of Americans, and now researchers believe they may be on the verge of a breakthrough treatment.

For Patricia Frost, some of the best things in life are now blurry, like the subtitles on the foreign movies she watches with her husband.

"It's pretty important to me, most of us probably think our eyesight is the most important thing we have," said eye patient Patricia Frost.

She was diagnosed with macular degeneration, an abnormal growth of leaking blood vessels in the back of her eye. It's the most common form of vision loss among people over 60. But soon after her diagnosis, Patricia was selected for a clinical trial in San Jose. It's a combination therapy being tested by Dr. Amr Dessouki.

"What I'm hoping to achieve is out of this I will go to this, and shut down this vascular membrane," said Dr. Dessouki.

First he'll inject the eye with Lucentis, a drug approved to treat wet age related macular degeneration. It's proven to block abnormal blood vessel growth and prevent bleeding.

The problem is that patients often need to be treated over and over again, so the doctor is hoping to add a knockout punch.

In a short surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, Dr. Dessouki will saturate the cluster of blood vessels with a targeted dose of radiation.

It's delivered with a laser device about the size of a fountain pen, manufactured by Neovista in Fremont.

"We go into with device and deliver radiation therapy directly to membrane, intravascular membrane, and try to shut them down," said Dr. Dessouki. "What we're hoping to do with radiation is to shut it down once and for all."

The laser radiation is calibrated precisely for the size of the lesion, and administered for a preset amount of time. If the clinical trials are successful, the combination treatment could free Patricia from a life of monthly injections.

After the surgery comes several weeks of waiting and anticipation -- will Patricia for instance be able to read those fuzzy subtitles that originally tipped her off to her deteriorating vision?" And will her vision slowly become clearer with time?

We caught up with Patricia during a follow up examination. Though her vision isn't perfect, it's vastly improved from the hazy blockage she had before the radiation procedure.

"We haven't had any subtitled movies, but where it goes across on CNN, I couldn't read that, I can now," said Frost.

"She's seeing much better and according to my exam the lesion is not back there anymore, and that is what we want," said Dr. Dessouki.

The question now, is whether the improvement can be considered long-term or even permanent. It's a question that Dr. Dessouki hopes to answer as the clinical trial continues.

The clinical trial in San Jose is part of a larger research project called the Cabernet Study, and is still recruiting patients.


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