Implantable Telescopes improve sight

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: October 25th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For centuries, people have been using telescopes to gaze at the heavens. Now scientists have found a more down-to-earth use for the devices.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of miniature telescopes that can be implanted in the eye of a patient suffering from a form of age-related vision loss called macular degeneration. The Implantable Miniature Telescopes replace the natural lens of the eye and can provide an image that has been magnified more than two times.

Macular degeneration is an eye disorder that damages the center of the retina, called the macula. Those suffering from the condition will have a blurred spot in the center of their vision. As the disease progresses, the blurred spot will get larger and darker. There is no treatment, although patients are encouraged to take vitamins, antioxidants and zinc to slow its progression.

About eight million people in the U.S. have macular degeneration. The implantable telescope, which is smaller than the size of a pea, is intended for patients seventy-five and older with severe to profound vision impairment.

There are two models of telescope that vary slightly in terms of the strength of magnification. Each works by projecting an image onto the healthy part of a person’s retina. And the telescope can be used in only one eye because the other eye is used for peripheral vision.

Does it work? Well, the FDA says in a clinical study of more than two-hundred patients, seventy-five percent improved their level of vision from severe or profound to moderate.

The FDA says it will continue to monitor the patients with the implantable telescopes, to ensure they can continue gazing at the stars well into their golden years.