New Micro Implant Restores Hope and Sight For Glaucoma Sufferers

It is estimated that more than 60 million people worldwide and more than 3 million Americans (with only half of those who may know they have it) suffer from glaucoma. despite its severity and endemic proportions, it is a disease that is very misunderstood and underestimated. According to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. Up until now, there have only been treatments that slow down the damage caused by this terrible malady. Now there is a solution.


Glaucoma Chart: Sour ce: CenterforsightnyGlaucoma Chart: Sour ce: Centerforsightny


The new micro implant

Glaucoma is caused by intense intraocular pressure that, if left untreated, damages the optic nerve and causes a loss of vision. German researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Microsystems and Modular Solid State Technologies (EMFT) are developing a miniature pump, which when inserted into the eye, corrects vision over time by regulating  fluids and ocular pressure. The implant consists of a micro-pump system that is applied directly to the eyeball.

According to Christophe Jenke, Project Manager at EMFT, "This way, we can spare the patient from the strain of multiple follow-up procedures,  and can preserve the ability to see over a longer time-frame and, in the best case scenario, completely prevent blindness."

How does the micro pump work?

The implant may be tiny, but it couldn't be more technologically sophisticated. It consists of  a micro-pump system that measures just 7X7X1 mm (0.27 X 0.4 in), a sensor-based pump control, an integrated battery and a telemetry module for data transmission. The system is capable of producing up  to 30 micro liters of fluid per second. In Jenke's own words: "Naturally, the patient should not sense it and his or her eye movements must not be restricted in any way. The system components therefore had to be miniaturized."


Miniature Pump: Source: FraunhofterMiniature Pump: Source: Fraunhofter


This silicone micro-membrane has the capacity to either moisturize the eye or drain intraocular fluid, depending on the disease in question.  Glaucoma or Phthisis Bulb, a condition in which the eye produces too little vitreous humor (the transparent gelatinous substance filling the eyeball behind the crystalline lens), causing the eye to collapse upon itself. Up until now, little could be done about these irreversible conditions once they manifested themselves, and available treatments could only delay progression and eventual loss of vision.

Advantages of this new micro pump

This new treatment is so much easier on the patient. The physician can set the desired eye pressure on the pump more precisely than any medication or surgical intervention and after insertion, can regulate fluids and pressure to correct lost vision over time. In addition, experts utilize the eye's natural drainage pathways to avoid the formation of scar tissue, which can cause severe problems.

Before the physician can set the desired eye pressure, the pump must be monitored at regular intervals based on conventional measurement. The determined setting can be done on an outpatient basis and the implantable sensor can regulate fluids automatically. Since the fluid would be maintained at healthy levels, it is hopeful that the system can stop the progression of the disease and preserve the patient's eyesight.


Implantable Sensor: Source: PhysorgImplantable Sensor: Source: Physorg


The future of the sight-saving micro pump

At present, researchers are working on a functional prototype that will thrive within a laboratory setting. The future looks bright (and a lot clearer) for sufferers of glaucoma and other vision-related maladies.

Closing thoughts on glaucoma:

Glaucoma is a thief of sight. Each day it steals from you precious memories–not of what was, but of what's to come. ~ Jeremiah Lim


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