Stopping Macular Degeneration

August 24, 2009 6:31:10 PM PDT
It's the leading cause of vision loss for people over 60 -- macular degeneration slowly steals a person's eyesight, making reading, driving and every day living difficult. It's estimated nearly 18 million Americans will have the blinding condition by 2050. Treatment typically involved monthly injections, until now. A new technique could save a person's sight ... along with their time. Judie Janes' handiwork keeps a long list of friends and family in style. Last year, she thought she made her last stitch.

"I couldn't thread a needle, couldn't see the needle to thread it on my sewing machine," Janes said.

Janes was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration. Abnormal blood vessels growing under her retina were bleeding.

"Vision is not something you can take for granted," Janes said.

Traditionally, doctors inject a drug into the eye that stops the vessels from growing, but it doesn't last.

"It's a big impact on lifestyle for the patients," Peter Sonkin, M.D., a retina specialist at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tenn., told Ivanhoe. "They have to come in once a month, sometimes for a year or two or longer."

In a clinical trial, doctors use a small probe that delivers targeted low-dose radiation to the eye. The goal -- damage abnormal the blood vessels without affecting the healthy parts of the eye.

"The amount of radiation exposure to the body from going through this procedure is less than one would get flying from New York to Los Angeles in a plane," Carl Awh, M.D., also a retina specialist at Baptist Hospital, told Ivanhoe.

Then surgeons inject a dose of the traditional medication. They say the radiation-drug combo is more powerful, lasts longer and could eliminate the need for monthly injections.

"Nothing's blurry," Janes said. "I passed the eye test, and you know you can't fake an eye test."

Janes checks her vision every morning. She went from nearly legally blind -- 20/100 -- to 20/20 after surgery.

"Every morning after I do my little grid test, I look at that prayer and it lets me know how blessed I really am," she said.

A grandma who has too much going on to spend her golden years in the dark.

Patients are sedated for the outpatient surgery which takes about an hour. The technique is in the final stages of approval in Europe and should be available there in August. If the trial is successful in the U.S., the treatment could be available in less than two years.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Kristi Gooden, Public Relations
Baptist Hospital
Nashville, TN
(615) 284-5446
Kristi.gooden@baptisthospital.com
www.baptisthospital.com
www.tnretina.com

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