How telescopic technologies are helping us fight back against age-related blindness

Recent advancements in technology are helping us fight back against age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Through the innovative use of telescopes, experts are attempting to enhance human eyesight and improving the vision of those affected by this disabling eye disease.


AMD affects the area of the eye known as the macula, the most important component of the retina. The macula is responsible for central vision and over time can be damaged naturally by aging but also by various factors such as diet, lifestyle and sun exposure. This damage causes light sensing cells in the macula to stop sending signals to the brain, resulting in AMD to cause central vision loss.

End-stage AMD is when the macula reaches the point that central vision is lost in both eyes. This damage is permanent and can develop from both the dry and wet forms of the condition.

How can telescopic implants help?

Recently CentraSight developed a technology which allows end-stage AMD sufferers to see more clearly, an implantable telescope which is surgically placed behind the iris.

This innovative technology is about the size of a pea and once implanted is barely visible. By telescopically enhancing an image and then projecting that picture onto healthier areas of the macula the telescope has the ability to enhance the vision between three to four eye chart lines on average.

During the clinical study of the implant over 200 patients demonstrated vast improvements, with some patients stating that the implant made the difference between recognising faces and not. This shows how much of an impact end-stage AMD has on a person’s life, and other issues such as being unable to dial on the telephone and unable to see steps on a staircase can be rectified with the implant.

TELESCOPIC contact lensTelescopic contact lenses to be trialled

Researchers from San Diego and Switzerland published their switchable telescopic contact lens work in issue 13 (volume 21) of the Optics Express journal in July.

The telescopic contact lens works in a similar way to the telescopic implant, magnifying vision to improve eyesight, although it does not need to be surgically placed within the eye and can be switched on and off at leisure.

Measuring just over a millimetre thick, the telescopic lens can adjust vision by 2.8x magnification. This is achieved through a series of mirrors placed around a magnifying ring around the outside of the lens, which bounces the image around before delivering a magnified image to the retina.

The lenses, however, will not work alone. In order to function as magnifying lenses they must be paired with a set of electronic polarising glasses, modified from a set of 3D TV eyewear. This pairing allows wearers of the lenses to switch the magnification effect on and off by switching the glasses on and off (or simply removing them altogether).

Currently the telescopic contact lens remains in the prototype stage, meaning it isn’t available to people quite yet. However, the prototype is being prepared to enter trials this November once a few refinements, such as enhanced image quality and gas permeability, have been made.

Stem cell treatment

In late June it was reported that Japan’s government had given researchers permission to begin the world’s first clinical trials using stem cells harvested from the patient’s own body to treat AMD.

The trials will be performed by the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology with next summer as a possible start date, recruiting six patients suffering from AMD.

These six patients, all aged at least 60, will have cells taken from their skin which will then be reprogrammed to become iPS cells (stem cells which can be generated from adult tissue). The infant iPS cells will be encouraged to develop into retina cells with the intention to implant these into the eye and repair the damage caused by AMD.

Unfortunately this research will take four years to perform and possibly even longer to form into a new treatment. Additionally stem cell research is still a pioneering field which means that there could be many delays and concerns caused during trials.

Spotting the signs of AMD

Despite advancements in end-stage AMD treatments featuring heavily in the news lately it is important not to neglect the simple fact that preventing AMD is much easier than intervening the condition’s effects.

The most prominent problem with the telescopic implant, which could also be an issue with the telescopic lens also, is that it costs several thousand pounds per treatment. This price means that many who could benefit from the treatments are highly unlikely to receive them.

By detecting the signs earlier AMD sufferers are able to find medications which can slow the progression of the disease and possibly even revert the effects before it reaches a stage that cannot be treated.

A simple way of detecting a risk of advanced AMD quickly and accurately is through the use of an MPS II macular pigment reader. The MPS II delivers results in just 90 seconds, allowing eye-care professionals to dispense the right treatments and advice to a patient before the condition has time to progress any further.

In addition to fast and easy macular pigment readings the MPS II is also extremely cost effective. If the device were to cost your practice £6,000 you would only need to see 300 patients at £20 an eye exam to cover the initial cost.

More information

For more about the MPS II and how it could benefit your practice visit the Elektron Healthcare website.

If you’d like to know more about detecting the early signs of AMD visit the RNIB’s ‘spot the signs’ campaign.

To learn more about the telescopic implant read these news articles from ABC Local, Fox, and NBC.

To learn more about the telescopic contact lens read these news articles from the BBC, Gizmag, and TIME.

[Picture credit: Huffington Post]

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