A miniature telescope implanted into the eye could soon help people with vision loss from end-stage macular degeneration. Last week, an advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommended that the agency approve the implant. Clinical trials of the device, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, suggest it can improve vision by about three and a half lines on an eye chart.
"This is one of the few options for people with end-stage macular degeneration," says Kathryn Colby, an eye surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, in Boston, who helped develop the surgical procedure used to implant the device.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people age 65 and older, affecting more than 10 million Americans. The disease strikes the center of the retina, called the macula, which is especially important for reading, watching television, and recognizing faces. While some treatments exist to slow progression of the disease, no treatments are currently available for those in the latest stages of the disease, who have irreversible damage to the macula. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people per year fall into this category.