When we think of a telescope, we envision gazing at the stars on a warm summer’s night. But did you know that you can have a telescope implanted directly into your eye?
Not for just for fans of astronomy, an implantable miniature telescope is a surgical device that alleviates the symptoms of end-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The Health Canada-approved device is designed to work like a telephoto lens of a camera. Once embedded inside the eye, it magnifies images onto the remaining healthy areas of the light-sensing retina to help improve central (straight forward) vision.
The surgery is ideal for those 65 or older with stable but severe vision loss or the legally blind (you are legally blind when your visual acuity is in the range of 20/160 to 20/800 wearing corrective lenses). The cause of vision impairment must be caused by bilateral central scotomas (blind spots in your vision) associated with end-stage AMD.
Smaller than a pea, the telescope is implanted into one eye. In the implanted eyeball, the device renders enlarged images over a wide area of the retina to improve central vision, while the non-operated eye provides peripheral vision for mobility and orientation. The power of this miniature telescope helps to magnify images two to three times their original size with the goal of improving the central vision in one eye.
The telescope is about the size of a pea (3.6 mm in diameter and 4.4 mm in length). Source: BBC
Studies show that telescope implantation in individuals with bilateral end-stage AMD significantly improves vision and quality of life and is also cost-effective. Although the price tag of the technology and surgery amount to approximately $19,000 USD ($25,166 CDN), researchers at the University of Western Ontario Medical have determined that the quality of life regained from using the device is recouped when the cost of health care expenses associated with someone living with AMD are considered (which can often exceed $47,000 USD or 62,253 CDN annually).
The number of Canadians developing end-stage AMD is growing as the nation’s population ages. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind indicates that nearly one million Canadians currently have AMD causing some level of vision loss. An estimated 250,000 Canadians have an advanced form of AMD, of which 64,000 are legally blind. These numbers are expected to double in the next 25 years.
To qualify for the procedure, potential patients must meet strict health requirements, including having exhausted AMD drug therapy treatment. Candidates cannot have had cataract surgery in the eye in which the telescope is to be implanted and must meet age, vision, and cornea health restrictions.
The surgical procedure is relatively short, lasting from 1 hour to 90 minutes. During this time, the eye’s natural lens is removed and replaced with the tiny telescope implant. Follow-up appointments, use of eye drops, and therapy to help re-train their brain to use each eye differently are a must. A gradual improvement in vision in the treated eye will occur over a period of time, ranging from weeks to months.
As with any medical intervention, potential risks and complications exist with the telescope implant. The most common include inflammatory deposits on the device and increased pressure in the eye. Significant adverse events include corneal swelling, need for a corneal transplant, and a decrease in visual acuity. In rare instances, vision can worsen rather than improve following the implantation. Each person and eye is different, so results vary.
If you have questions about AMD or the related symptoms and possible treatments available to you, reach out to your local Visique clinic to book an appointment and assess your ocular health.