A new treatment for glaucoma that promises to control the debilitating eye condition for years without many of the ill-effects of surgery is being introduced in the UK.
The pioneering method involves implanting a tiny strip of sponge into the corner of the eye to soak away excess fluid that causes the condition.
About 700,000 people in Britain have glaucoma, which is caused when the optic nerve is damaged by pressure built up by the trapped fluid. Restoring lost vision is not yet possible.
Doctors have a range of treatments to prevent it getting worse, though each has drawbacks.
New treatment which involves implanting a tiny strip of sponge into the corner of the eye to soak away excess fluid could tackle glaucoma (file photo)
Patients with primary open angle glaucoma – the most common form of the condition which leads to progressive loss of peripheral vision – are usually given eye-drop drugs to start with.
If these fail, laser surgery is used to widen the natural channels that drain fluid from the eye. But the benefits of laser surgery can be modest, or wane over time, at which point many sufferers go for traditional surgery. This often involves drainage channels being opened further and the creation of an artificial reservoir for the excess fluid.
But recovery can take more than a month, with some patients suffering debilitating side effects that include dry, gritty eyes.
The new method involves implanting a 5mm strip of high-density sponge, which is less than a millimetre thick, called a MINIject. It collects and then drains the excess eye fluid into a natural chamber called the supraciliary space, from where it is absorbed by the body.
Chrys Dimitriou, a consultant eye surgeon at the Colchester Eye Centre, recently implanted MINIject devices into eight NHS patients – the first to receive them.
He said: ‘It’s working with the natural structure of the eye. With some patients they can even go swimming a week after having it implanted.’
About 700,000 people in Britain have glaucoma, which is caused when the optic nerve is damaged by pressure built up by the trapped fluid (file photo)
Recent trial data indicates that the procedure has a long-lasting effect, with eye pressure, on average, more than a third lower after two years compared with before implantation of the sponge. There was also no sign of damage to the back of the cornea – an issue with previous implants of this type.
Mr Dimitriou said MINIject could also be used for patients whose glaucoma had not been controlled by traditional surgery, holding out hope of retaining good vision for longer.
The sponge was designed by iSTAR Medical, a Belgian firm which specialises in ‘minimally invasive glaucoma surgery’.