Surgeons use radiation beams to halt macular degeneration, restore sight

Surgeons have pioneered a technique that uses pinpoint beams of radiation to restore eyesight to blind people.

Surgeons have pioneered a technique that uses pinpoint beams of radiation to restore eyesight to blind people.

The therapy, developed by British doctors at Kings College Hospital in London, kills abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eye that cause macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness and affects more than 10 million people in the United States and more than a quarter of a million people in the U.K.

Currently, patients with the disease are treated with monthly injections of a drug into the eye.

The new treatment, called brachytherapy, needs only a single visit to hospital, where surgeons thread a probe into the eye until it reaches the abnormal area in the retina. Once the probe is in place, a precisely-timed dose of radiation -- in a beam 5.4mm wide -- kills the problematic blood vessels.

That's a far more permanent solution than the current drug treatment, which merely suppresses the vessels.

Surgeons are performing a trial of the technique on 363 patients at 15 hospitals around the country to ensure that the tiny radiation dose is safe. (The probe's proximity to the area of damage keeps the radiation from significantly penetrating surrounding normal tissue.)

The procedure costs about £6,000, or approximately $10,000 USD. In contrast, current drug treatments cost 800, or about $1,300 USD for each monthly dose.

Here's a Sky News video on the procedure:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com