Tiny Telescope in Eye Not Just for Bionic Man

Implanting tiny telescopes in the eye could help macular degeneration.

Aug. 14, 2007 — -- Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for people older than 55 so researchers are excited about a new study that found implanting tiny telescopes in people's eyes could help restore vision.

Janet Grant, 78, has a telescope in her left eye.

Like millions of Americans, she suffers from macular degeneration, a condition where the retina breaks down, causing blurry vision and even blindness. Many patients lose the ability to do tasks that others accomplish easily.

"Art was one of my favorite hobbies to do. Riding the bike was another one," Grant said.

She took part in a trial where an implantable miniature telescope, or IMT, no bigger than the size of the tip of a fingernail, was surgically implanted in the middle of her eye.

"What the telescope does is by enlarging the image the patient image is looking at, it allows them to see around these scotoma, or holes in their vision," said Dr. Kathryn Colby, director of the Joint Clinical Research Center at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the technology right now, and doctors involved with the surgery hope it can win government approval by the end of the year, making it much more widely available.

Colby and others caution that the IMT would not help everyone with macular degeneration.

The hard part comes afterward, when the patient's brain "retrains" itself to use the eye with the telescope for central vision and the eye without the telescope for peripheral vision.

"It does offer hope for a population for which there are no other options at the current time," Colby said.

For Grant, that means being able ride her bike in style once again.

"It just seems to me that each year there are more things that I can do with my eye. So I'm happy with it. I'm really happy with it," she said.

For more information, visit www.visioncareinc.net .