Mimi Murphy's Medical Breakthroughs: Laser for Macular Degeneration

Medical Breakthroughs
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Currently, up to 30 percent of people over age 75 have the blinding condition macular degeneration. Most have the dry form of the disease, which has no proven treatment. Now, a new laser may finally offer hope.

John Thyne and his wife Prudence enjoy their trips down memory lane. If John had not been in the right place at the right time, he may not have been able to see these pictures.

"The first doctor said I had macular degeneration and said it could be very serious," John said. However, ophthalmologist Greg Fox had a different response. He told John there was help.

"It's a very easy treatment. It takes about 15 minutes to do," Dr. Fox, of Retina Associates in Kansas City, Mo. said.

That treatment is this laser. It gently heats the retinal pigment epithelium, the tissue that contains harmful deposits called drusen.

"That heating and damaging of the retinal pigment epithelium causes the body to come in and do some repair work and, at the same time, we noticed some of these drusen can disappear and decrease in size and number and thickness," said Dr. Fox.

He says the treatment is for those with the dry form of the disease. He hopes this can decrease the number of people who go on to develop the more serious wet form.

"We could decrease the incidence of patients going on to wet macular degeneration by the order of 100,000 patients or more per year," said Dr. Fox.

John had the treatment and is surprised with the results.

"The eye that they did the work on is better than the other one now," John said.

Over time, he's learned to appreciate the little things in life.

"It's wonderful to be able to get around every day, see people and things, and enjoy life," said John.

With his vision intact, he's staying one step ahead of Mother Nature.

The treatment is only for people who have the dry form of macular degeneration, but it is not yet readily available. A study of more than 800 people is currently underway. After results are in, and the treatment proves to be beneficial, Dr. Fox says it could then be a treatment that insurance companies would likely pay for.