A retired classroom assistant from Plymouth who has not seen her granddaughter’s face for two years will finally be able to see her again following a revolutionary treatment at the leading private London eye hospital in Harley Street, London. Irene Da Silva, who is 81 years old, is due to be reunited with her granddaughter next month, and will see her clearly thanks to the new lens implant.
Irene first noticed her vision becoming misty four years ago, and was devastated to be told that she had the progressive eye condition, age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In the past, surgery for AMD has rarely been offered, due to the extensive risks involved, but this changed when Bobby Qureshi, Chief Medical Officer and Founder of the London Eye Hospital Pharma joined forces with a world-renowned optical physicist and together came up with a low-risk, simple procedure that could save the sight of millions worldwide, including Irene.
AMD affects the central vision, eventually leading to loss of sight, and is the most common cause of blindness in over 55s in the developed world, with between 4-6 million sufferers in the UK and 560 million worldwide. Previous attempts to solve this problem have involved risky open eye surgery, which requires a large incision in the eye through which the lens is implanted. The old-generation procedure is complex, the chances of complications high and most modern eye surgeons have been reluctant to perform it.
Irene, who is married and has two grown-up children and one granddaughter, could make out outlines and shapes of people, but was unable to see their facial features. Irene says:
“When I was diagnosed with AMD, I didn’t fully understand the consequences. When I found out that it was a progressive condition and couldn’t be cured, I was incredibly upset. My vision deteriorated until finally I couldn’t see faces clearly, my driving licence was taken away, and I lost my independence. I became increasingly reliant on my husband; I couldn’t see bus numbers, so couldn’t travel alone to even go shopping or meet friends for coffee. My husband had to read my post to me. It was a very difficult time, as I have always been independent. The realisation slowly dawned on me – unless I did something, this was how my future would be.
I was told I would never go fully blind, but the deterioration was frightening. My granddaughter visits me every July, and the prospect of never seeing her beautiful face again saddened me. My son sent over photos, but I couldn’t see them clearly. Late last year, my husband saw an article about the iolAMD treatment at the London Eye Hospital, and I was impressed by the advanced technology. I spoke to family and friends who encouraged me to contact the hospital, so I arranged a consultation to see someone there.”
The lens is made from a pliable material, and injected into the eye via an incision so small that there is no requirement for sutures, greatly reducing the risk of infection and post-operative complications. It is a revolutionary breakthrough in optical implants, and was created when Bobby Qureshi and Professor Pablo Artal – the first-ever European winner of the prestigious Edward H Land Award for scientific contributions to the advancement of visual optics – joined forces and implemented technology.
“The surgeon told me that he would be able to operate on my right eye, but there was nothing they could do for my left. This was absolutely fine with me, as the important thing was that my vision was improved, not that it was perfect. I had the operation in May, and I now have clear, bright, sharp vision in my right eye. I am no longer reliant on my husband; I can get on buses, go shopping and read my own post for the first time in a long time. I can see the photos of my granddaughter that my son sent over; she has changed so much since I last saw her. I can’t wait to see her face for real when she visits in July!”
In order to manufacture the lens, the team had to create new instruments, as there were none in existence that would be able to evaluate measurements in such a complex lens. The lens now has regulatory approval and clinical trials have been performed. The new implantable lens is a world-first that could mean millions of people will be able to drive, read, watch television and recognise faces again. The lens is effective in the treatment of dry AMD, established wet forms of AMD, and other macular disease including maculopathy (fats leaking into the retina) caused by diabetes.
Consultant ophthalmic surgeon and Medical Director of the London Eye Hospital, Bobby Qureshi, says:
“Irene was gradually losing her independence, which she understandably found incredibly upsetting. This, coupled with her desire to see her granddaughter’s face again, gave her the impetus to undergo the iolAMD procedure. We were delighted that she was suitable for the iolAMD implant, and just as delighted that it has helped her regain her independence. The implant is a giant step forward in optical innovation, and it is immeasurably satisfying to have a role in using the ‘Hubble’ lens, which benefits such a wide range of people for whom, at the moment, there is no treatment.”