Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 11 News List

US firm seeks approval for bionic eye implant

AP , WASHINGTON

The firm VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies Inc is seeking federal approval to sell a tiny telescope that could be implanted in the eyes of some elderly patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration.

The device is called the Implantable Miniature Telescope. If approved, the pea-sized telephoto lens could enable some patients to do away with the special glasses and handheld telescopes they now use to compensate for the loss in central vision caused by the disease.

The miniature telescope contains two lenses that work with the cornea to create a magnified image that's projected onto a wider area of the retina, improving central vision, according to the Saratoga, California-based company. It does not work in patients who are blind.

The US Food and Drug Administration's ophthalmic devices panel was meeting Friday to discuss whether to recommend approving the device. The FDA usually follows the recommendations of its outside panels of experts, but isn't required to do so.

The device would be implanted in only one eye, which would provide central vision. The other eye, left untouched, would be responsible for peripheral vision, leaving the brain to combine the two views to form a single image. Getting used to that could require patients to undergo professional rehabilitation, the FDA said.

Macular degeneration typically affects the elderly. The disorder leads to a weakening or breakdown of the cells in the macula, or the bull's-eye of the retina crucial for the straight-ahead vision needed to read, watch television and recognize faces. Patients with macular degeneration suffer from blind spots and distorted vision.

"Many people with age-related macular degeneration have great difficulty using handheld magnifying devices. Concurrent with the aging process that affects the eye, one loses one's strength, coordination and steadiness. By implanting the lens in the eye, it's directly placed in the optical system of the eye and is much easier for patients to use," said American Academy of Ophthalmology spokesman Lee Duffner, an ophthalmologist from Hollywood, Florida.

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