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World-first laser treatment for Australia’s leading cause of blindness

image-tools (73)Melbourne researchers are about to begin an international clinical trial for a new world-first laser therapy, offering hope for the hundreds of thousands of Australians at risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the leading cause of central vision loss in people over the age of 50 in Australia, with one in seven Australians over 50 showing signs of the disease. Unfortunately, vision loss often does not occur until the disease is advanced so most people don’t realise they have AMD until it’s too late.

Researchers from the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) are attempting to halt the progression of AMD in its early stage, before it progresses to the vision-threatening late stage, using an Australian designed and built ‘nanosecond laser’.

The laser, created by Ellex Medical Lasers Ltd, emits a tiny pulse of energy into the back of the eye, to remove the deposits that build up with age and contribute to AMD. Mr Malcolm Plunkett, Executive Director of Ellex, explains that this nanosecond laser is part of a new wave of lasers that can treat areas of the eye previously considered too delicate for laser treatment.

“If you imagine that the energy emitted by the nanosecond laser is equivalent to the height of an average adult, then a standard photocoagulation laser (such as that used to treat diabetic retinopathy) would be four times the height of the Empire State building. We’re talking about a minuscule amount of energy here but the results so far have been very promising.”

Lead investigator Professor Robyn Guymer conducted a pilot study of the nanosecond laser in 2010-12. “The results were encouraging so we have decided to conduct a much larger proof of principle randomized trial. Patients reported that the laser treatment was completely painless. A few even wondered when the treatment was going to start, when it was actually already over,” said Professor Guymer.

Researchers are now seeking volunteers with early-stage AMD for this next phase of the clinical trial, which will start recruiting in Melbourne and Sydney, and then will commence at sites outside Australia in 2013.

“We’re looking for people who have gone along for routine eye checks, or those who have had an eye check because of a family history of AMD and been told by their ophthalmologist or optometrist that they have the start of AMD.”

Professor Guymer stressed that this treatment is not suitable for people who had already developed the advanced form of AMD, either the dry or the wet types of AMD, which will have already threatened vision. Those people who think they might be suitable and are interested in participating should speak to their eye care professional and ask for their details to be sent on to Professor Guymer’s team at the Centre for Eye Research Australia. Alternatively, they can call (03) 9929 8373 to leave their details and they will be contacted shortly afterwards.

The trial is supported by funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and in partnership with Bupa Health Foundation.

About AMD
AMD is the leading cause of central vision loss in people over the age of 50 in Australia, with one in seven Australians over the age of 50 years showing signs of the disease. Fifteen per cent of these people will go on to lose significant vision from AMD and there is currently no cure and no way to restore vision once it is lost.

About CERA
The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) is Australia’s leading eye research institute. We conduct basic, clinical and population-based research to understand disease processes, and improve diagnosis and treatment of major eye diseases.

About Ellex Medical Lasers Ltd
Ellex is an Australian company that designs, manufactures and markets a complete line of lasers and diagnostic ultrasound systems used by ophthalmologists to diagnose and treat eye disease.

About the Bupa Health Foundation

The Bupa Health Foundation helps build a healthier Australian community through its support of important health research, health education and other healthy living programs. Established as a charitable foundation in 2005, the Bupa Health Foundation has partnered in over 80 initiatives nationally, with a combined investment of around $19 million, across its key focus areas: promoting wellness, managing chronic disease, healthy ageing, empowering people about their health; and keeping healthcare affordable. www.bupa.com.au/foundation