ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Nine million people in this country suffer from age-related macular degeneration. An estimated 1.7 million have an advanced stage. It's the leading cause of legal blindness for people over 55.
The disease damages the macula in the center of the back of the eye where the light gets focuses. There can be bleeding and scarring and the scar tissue is unable to capture the light and send a signal to the brain. Patients lose their central vision but maintain their peripheral vision. When they look at an object, the center is fuzzy while details may be clear around the edges. There is no cure.
Treatment for patients with advanced macular degeneration often includes external aids like strong glasses, various types of magnifiers or closed circuit TV.
85-year old Eleanor Risman received a new device to help her cope with her end-stage macular degeneration. It's called a CentraSight implantable miniature telescope. It's about the size of a pea. Approved by the FDA in 2010, it's been implanted in four patients in the St. Louis area and about 100 nationwide. The St. Louis procedures were performed by Dr. Mujtaba Qazi of the Pepose Vision Institute. It works by magnifying the image, allowing light to get to the parts of the macula that are still healthy and can capture the light and send signals to the brain, improving vision.
The implantable telescope performed well in FDA trials with the only side-effects reported having to do with surgery. It's a longer and more complicated operation than that for cataract surgery. Possible side effects during surgery include bleeding, problems with stitches, problems with placement. It is an outpatient procedure.
Patients will get rehab to help them retrain the eye to use the telescope. They sometimes wear a patch over the other eye to help them focus on the implant. Eleanor says she's noticed improvement while using her magnifier to read and write and while watching TV. She feels it has also helped her other eye which Dr. Mujtaba Qazi says is entirely possible.
The procedure is approved for a select group. You must be 75 years of age or older, have end stage macular degeneration and a cataract. Surgeons basically remove the cataract and replace it with the telescope. Dr. Mujtaba Qazi hopes it will eventually be approved for younger patients.
The procedure is not cheap. It costs about $15,000 and Medicare does pay for it. There is a seminar on macular degeneration on Saturday, July 27 at the Doubletree in Chesterfield. It runs 8:30am to 11:45am. It's free but you must register. To register, you can call 1-800-253-0985 or go to www.MacularDegenerationAssociation.org.
Also for more information on the CentraSight implantable miniature telescope, you can call the phone numbers or go to the websites listed below.