Mini-telescopes could help blind see

August 3, 2009 6:27:29 PM PDT
For centuries, telescopes have been used to see the stars. Now, a Bay Area company is expecting to receive FDA approval for a telescope that will help legally-blind patients see images right in front of their face.

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For patients who suffer from macular degeneration almost nothing is easy. The disease leaves patients with a blurry spot in the center of their vision. For 76-year-old Wayne Rogers, who first spoke with ABC7 six years ago, things are different.

Wayne was an early participant in a clinical trial for a device that is now promising to change the lives of thousands of other patients. It is known as an "IMT" or Implanted Miniature Telescope. It is manufactured by Vision Care Technologies in Saratoga.

"It's in the form of a Galilean telescope that we put inside the eye behind the iris. It functions as a fixed-focus telephoto lens," explained Vision Care CEO Allen Hill.

Once it is implanted, the lens magnifies images, allowing healthy cells on the edges of the retina to focus on them, giving the patient the ability to see around their blurry spot.

"For instance, here I might have trouble seeing your face. But, if I got enough magnification, then all of a sudden maybe the blind spot only covers up a little bit of your face, and I could see who you are," said Dr. David Chang at UCSF.

Bay Area eye surgeon David Chang was a principal investigator in the study. He cautions that the telescope is not an instant cure. After it is implanted, the eye equipped with the telescope provides central vision, while the other eye is used to pick up peripheral images. Patients then need to retrain their brain to interpret what they are seeing.

Still, Chang believes it is a valuable solution in otherwise untreatable cases.

"When you have macular degeneration that's reached a certain point, you really can't improve the vision medically or surgically," he said.

He says on average, patients in the study were able to read two to three lines lower on the eye chart. Six years after his implant, Rogers is still able to see the shapes and images that color his world.

This summer an FDA advisory panel voted unanimously to recommend approval of the IMT. There is no word yet on the price, but the company expects the device to be covered by Medicare.

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