An implant the size of an eyelash is being used to prevent further loss of sight in patients with advanced glaucoma.
The Australian invention, developed at the Lions Eye Institute in Perth, is now being used at Westmead Hospital.
The XEN implant has meant a more efficient and comfortable procedure with a faster recovery for patients.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve resulting in a gradual loss of sight, with reduced peripheral vision a tell-tale sign of the disease.
It is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness in the world.
Associate Professor Andrew White, Head of Ophthalmology at Westmead Hospital, told The Pulse glaucoma affects 3.7 per cent of people aged over 40, or more than 300,000 Australians.
He said it was an asymptomatic disease, meaning half of all Australians with glaucoma are not aware they have it.
“We know that making the pressure in the eye lower is the best way of stopping glaucoma from getting worse,” he said.
The most common treatments include eye drops and laser surgery.
“One thing we know about that is a lot of those drops tend to sting or they’re uncomfortable, and often people just forget to take them because the disease has no symptoms,” Dr White said.
“But if glaucoma is relatively advanced and neither of those approaches are working, normally what we do is we create a filtration system where we allow fluid from inside the eye to escape to the blood vessels around the eye.”
Traditional surgery – a trabeculectomy – has been around for the past 50 years.
It takes about an hour and there is a lengthy follow up, while vision can be impaired for some time prior to recovery.
Nonetheless it is regarded as a very effective operation.
“Effectively what we do is we make a little flat valve just under the eyelid out of the eyeball itself, and it functions a little like a cat flap,” Dr White said.
With the introduction of the XEN implant, surgery now only takes fifteen minutes.
“That means that we can actually get through many more surgical cases in one surgical list than we’ve traditionally been able to do,” Dr White said.
XEN is a gel tube made of collagen and just six millimetres in length.
The drainage device helps those with advanced glaucoma, and represents a less invasive option for patients, particularly the elderly.