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New Telescope Implant for Eyes Brings Hope of Improved Sight to Those With Advanced Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Eye operation

It's been years since Craig Chappell of Fremont has been able to distinguish the features of friends and family sitting just a few feet away from him. The 86-year-old was diagnosed with a form of advanced age-related macular degeneration — a condition in which blind spots invaded his vision — nearly a decade ago. It meant drastic changes to everyday activities that once where the norm: Trips to Fish Lake to admire the stunning mountains by his home in rural Wayne County stopped when Chappell's vision became too poor to drive. Watching his favorite TV show like reruns of "Hee Haw" and "Dancing with the Stars" couldn't be done without a pair of binoculars. A longtime rancher and retired construction worker, Chappell struggled to see to fix sprinklers on his property and to cook more than a few simple items for himself.

But Chappell is optimistic that his future of limited sight will soon change. On Dec. 26, he became the first patient at the University of Utah's Moran Eye Center to undergo a new procedure in which a pea-sized telescope was implanted into one of his eyes. The device is expected to restore vision to his damaged retina, giving him improved vision and a chance to return to some activities previously taken away because of vision loss.

Majid Moshirfar, MD, director of the Moran Eye Center's Refractive Surgery Program and Cornea Program, performed the implant on Chappell on Dec. 26. In the outpatient procedure, Moshirfar planted the telescope in one of Chappell's eyes in place of the man's biological lens. The telescope acts as a magnifying glass for the retina, giving healthy cells near Chappell's damaged macula a boost in order to power the man's vision. Following the surgery, it will take about two to three months to know if the procedure was a success, said Moshirfar. But the treatment has been successful for other patients across the U.S. and in Europe.

Chappell's eye with the telescope is expected to help him with reading and to recognize the faces of his friends and family more clearly. His other eye, which was not operated on, will take over for jobs related to peripheral vision.

New telescope eye implant

"The device has been shown to improve visual acuity. A person who was nearly blind or could possibly only see a blurry image of a face reports improved vision —such as being able to distinguish facial features instead of only focusing on that blur —as a result of the telescope," Moshirfar said.

"Until now, we've had very few options to offer our patients with end-stage AMD. This telescope implant offers patients new hope. It allows them to do everyday things we take for granted like seeing their grandchildren or watching TV."

In order to qualify for the procedure, patients must meet certain recommendations. Most are elderly adults who haven't previously had cataract surgery. Patients are screened for whether they might be good candidates for a telescope implant by retina specialists who treat macular degeneration and other back-of-the-eye disorders. The treatment program focuses on comprehensive patient care, requiring prospective patients to undergo medical and vision evaluation to determine whether the patient may be a good candidate. A unique aspect of the evaluation is the ability to simulate, prior to surgery, what a person may expect to see once the telescope is implanted to determine if the improvement possible will meet the patient's expectations.

The telescope, manufactured by California-based company VisionCare, is FDA approved. The product has been used by ophthalmologists in several other U.S. states, but is only arriving in Utah now.

Approximately 8 million Americans have advanced forms of AMD with associated vision loss. More than a half million of these people have end-stage AMD and may be candidates for the telescope implant. Despite the availability of new drug treatments that slow the progression of AMD, the number of people with end-stage AMD is expected to double by the year 2050.

The procedure generally takes about an hour to perform, said Moshirfar. Follow-up care includes patient visits with an ophthalmologist and visits with vision rehabilitation specialists to help patients adapt their new vision for everyday activities.

Chappell said he's optimistic that the procedure will result in improved vision as he recovers following his Dec. 26 operation.

"I hope to see what I can see a little better," said Chappell. "I live in such a beautiful place, I would love to be able to see the mountains and enjoy them again."

Patients interested in learning more about whether a telescope implant may be right for them are encouraged to contact the Moran Eye Center at 801-581-2352 to schedule an appointment.