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Updated 10:00 AM April 11, 2005




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New lens helps restore vision

People who undergo cataract surgery may no longer worry about misplacing their reading glasses, thanks to a new implantable lens that moves like the eye's natural lens as it shifts position to allow both near and far vision.
(Photo by Lin Goings)

Everyone loses the natural elasticity of the lens with age. This creates a loss of accommodation, or ability to see at different distances without glasses. The condition is known as presbyopia, and, as a result, most people need bifocals or reading glasses beginning around age 45.

Dr. Michael Smith-Wheelock, ophthalmologist at the Kellogg Eye Center (KEC), offers a new intraocular lens (IOL) to some individuals undergoing cataract surgery. He has been pleased with the results, noting that it provides patients with functional vision, or, as he says, "good walking-around vision."

"A clouding of the lens inside the eye, known as a cataract, will affect just about everyone sooner or later," Smith-Wheelock says. When visual quality is sufficiently impaired, cataract surgery is performed to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a fixed artificial clear lens."

The lens, Crystalens™, includes hinges that work with the eye's focusing muscles so that the lens can move forward or backward as needed for near, intermediate and distance vision. "The lens mimics the natural action of the eye, which has its own auto-focus function," Smith-Wheelock says.

"Our patients say they come out of cataract surgery with the eyes of a 30-year old. Now, their world is clear and in focus when they read, watch television or drive down the highway," he says. "The future of this lens is very promising."

While individuals still may need eye glasses for extremely small print, most regain the ability to read a newspaper and see into the distance without glasses.

Robin Dudley, among the first to have the surgery at KEC, says the lens has changed his outlook on life. An auto mechanic and teacher of the trade, he was beginning to experience double vision due to cataracts.

"Imagine looking at a running engine and not knowing whether a sharp object is nearby," he says. "I thought about retiring, but now, why should I?"

The lens exceeded Dudley's hopes. Two weeks later, he threw away his reading glasses. "It's beyond great. I wish this had been available five years ago," he said.

The lens was approved by the FDA in November 2003. Of the 324 adults over age 50 who had the new IOL inserted as part of a clinical trial, the majority had markedly improved vision. With the Crystalens™ implanted in both eyes, 98 percent had vision good enough to pass a driver's license exam; 98 percent could read print the size of stock quotes in the newspaper; and 93 percent said they could perform most daily activities without glasses.

Although the device has FDA approval, the federal government and commercial insurance carriers have placed restrictions on its availability. Patients must be under the age of 65, because, for the moment, those on Medicare are not eligible for the surgery. Patients with insurance must pay part of the cost of the IOL.

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