Engineers Use Lasers To Trick Eyes Into Fixing Themselves. A New Cure For Poor Vision?

It seems like technology from the far future, using lasers to correct nearsightedness. You can easily imagine a futuristic world where an eccentric, and slightly dodgy, merchant offers better sight on the side of the street. You sit down, fire up the laser and then pay your suddenly much more recognisable 500 credits. Magic.

But actually, engineers publishing in Nature Photonics may have opened the door. In an unprecedented breakthrough, the new technique shuns traditional surgery for complex laser correction, encouraging the eye to fix itself. And the early data is very positive. So what exactly is happening?

eyes vision laser correction
Our eyes let us see the world, but sometimes not perfectly. Image courtesy of Maria Morri

Poor Vision And Surgery

Nearsightedness (myopia,) is a fairly common problem where an unfavourable structure of the eye presents difficulty in focussing an image. As light enters our eyes, it is refracted through a lens onto our retina, with the lens itself adapting to adjust for things far away or close up. But there is a limit to how well this works, and if your eye is ‘too long’ or ‘too short’ it can mean that the ‘light rays’ (imagine them as straight lines,) do not converge correctly.  So we see a blurry image.

The usual treatment is surgery, but this is invasive and can cause complications including visual loss in rare cases. Current ‘laser surgery’ involves the ‘ablation‘ of lens tissue, which can weaken eye tissue and leave it at risk. The new technology targets ‘corneal’ tissue, but in a novel way,

eyes vision correction laser
Poor Vision is common, but glasses may one day become a thing of the past entirely. Image courtesy of CJ Sorg

By using a ‘femtosecond oscillator‘ (i.e something that creates an energy output over tiny time periods,) the engineers were able to send very low energy pulses at corneal tissue. But instead of restructurng the tissue through burning bits away, it actually stimulates biochemical changes in the tissue. These changes lead to the development of new crosslinks between existing structures, which changes the way the tissue can adapt to incoming light.

This may all sound a little complex, and it is! Instead of directly changing the structure of eye tissue, they have induced chemical changes to assist the eye in doing it alone. Researcher Sinisa Vukelic said (as reported by Phys.org😉

“This is a fundamental departure from the mainstream ultrafast laser treatment..’

A New Vision

Although the research is currently in its ‘preclinical phase‘ (i.e being tested in laboratory conditions,) the researchers are confident. This is a normal process for any new drug or treatment, and exists to test it’s feasibility, effects and expose problems. So far,  the research has been shown safe, effective and useful in actually causing changes to the eye that directly effect how light is refracted.

Not only is this technique less invasive, it supports a relatively novel approach in medicine. Instead of introducing a change to a bodily process, it induces change indirectly, using the body’s own mechanisms to combat disease.

The next step is human trials. But with a common problem, and a new technique that may be safer than traditional approaches, the future may be bright. And if the technology can be used cheaply, it’s future is quite  clear. So what do you think?  Let us know in the comments below.

What’s Next?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of  Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Images courtesy of flickr. 

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