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Giving old eyes a new lease of life

5 December 09 03:35 GMT

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

As the body ages so do the eyes and people start needing glasses for reading and driving.

But now a new technique has come on the market which promises not only to restore our sight but also to make it better than before and get us seeing in high definition.

Where the light adjustable lens (LAL) differs from others is that because of the flexibility of its material, unpolymerised silicone, it can be adjusted after it has been placed in the eye - allowing eye surgeons to optimise vision.

But at the moment the technique, which costs upwards of £3,000 an eye, is not available on the NHS.

Age deterioration

Larry Benjamin, from the Royal College of Ophthalmology, said: "It is an exciting development but is unlikely to be available on the NHS initially because of cost."

TV star Fred Batt, a demonologist for the TV show Most Haunted Live, had noticed his eyes deteriorate over the years.

He needed glasses for reading but did not like wearing them and so opted to become one of the first in the UK to try the new technique.

This week, with one eye completed, Fred says the change in vision is extraordinary and he now has better than 20/20 vision - the standard measurement.

"Before this I had to use reading glasses," said Fred, from Surrey.

"And when I was driving at night with the headlight glaring in my eyes it would cause difficulties with seeing properly.

"With my work on the TV show I sit and look at my laptop and so when the camera comes to me I need to get information quickly to see what the others have picked up ghost- and spirit-wise.

"I will get the other eye done in two weeks - that should mean super vision - so maybe I will pick up a few more ghosts."

Mr Batt, who was awake during surgery, said the first thing he noticed was that everything seemed brighter.

"It is like having new eyes," he said.

No glasses

Bobby Qureshi, at the London Eye Hospital, who is the only person in the UK carrying out the technique, said it allowed the eye to see perfectly again.

"We all have a lens in our eyes and this focuses the light onto the retina," he said.

"When we are young this is transparent and flexible.

"Because it is flexible the muscles round the lens can change its focus to make the lens fat to look close up and thin to look far away.

"By the late 30s early 40s it tends to have become one shape so even though the muscles round it are acting on and pulling round the lens it cannot change its shape to change its focus and at that stage we need reading glasses. It is normal ageing and called presbyopia or ageing eyes."

The lens can then be removed and replaced with a new lens made from flexible plastic, which unlike traditional lenses can be adjusted in the eye.

"The beauty about the lens is that from the start it was designed so the shape of the lens could be changed from the outside by using light from a particular wavelength," he said.

"By changing the shape you can change the focus so you can change long-sightedness, short-sightedness and astigmatism (blurring).

"Unlike a conventional lens you can almost guarantee 20/20 vision because you can change and make sure you have corrected any problems."

Eight patients have so far had the surgery - all have at least excellent 20/20 vision, although two still have some minor imperfections.

Alex Ionides, a consultant ophthalmologist from Moorfields Eye Hospital, said imperfections should be ruled out with the new technique.

"When we do cataract surgery we aim to give people good unaided distance vision and then they need readers for near," he said.

"But we don't always succeed in this aim, and some people require glasses for distance as well as for reading.

"This is owing to a bit of long- or short-sightedness or perhaps a bit of astigmatism left behind."

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