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World-first laser treatment opens new frontier

A new laser treatment shows promise in slowing some forms of age-related macular degeneration.

Golda Hough and Professor Robyn Guymer

Golda Hough and Professor Robyn Guymer

A highly anticipated trial using nanosecond laser technology to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has yielded promising results.

The Laser Intervention in Early Age-Related Macular Degeneration (LEAD) trial studied 300 people with AMD and compared the disease progression of those treated with the laser with those who were not.

The study, led by Principal Investigator in Macular Research Professor Robyn Guymer AM, found different groups of patients responded differently to the treatment.

Those with less severe disease at the beginning of the trial showed a four-fold decrease in the progression of their disease compared to those who were not treated. However, those who had more severe signs of the disease showed a doubling of their progression.

“The nanosecond laser results are extremely promising, but it is essential that the study is repeated, with these different types of AMD randomised from the outset, so that the results can be validated,’’ says Professor Guymer.

“Whilst this new laser isn’t a cure, and it would not be suitable for all people with early AMD, it’s an important first step in finding a new treatment that could potentially reduce the progression of the disease.

“If our findings are validated, this treatment will be a huge advance for AMD.”

While laser treatment to slow progression of macular degeneration has been explored before, the new laser technology, designed and built in Australia by Ellex in Adelaide, ensures that there is no thermal, or heat, damage to the retina.

This is because the 2RT laser is applied for only three nanoseconds, delivering about a 1000th of the dose used in conventional laser treatments for other retinal diseases.

“This laser works differently, and it delivers the potentially good effects but without any of the unwanted effects of a normal laser,” says Professor Guymer. “Cases have shown that it doesn’t damage the neural retina that we want to save.”

In preparing for this trial, the CERA team achieved another significant milestone that has immediate application.

Researchers used the first identifiable signs of cell death as an ‘endpoint’ of the trial, to determine whether their treatment has been effective. This is at a much earlier point than traditional AMD trials and could accelerate the testing of drugs or treatments to slow the disease.

“I feel so lucky” – Golda’s story

At the age of 70, Golda Hough learned she had mid-stage age-related macular degeneration and that she qualified for a new trial at CERA.

For more than three years, Golda (pictured above with Professor Robyn Guymer) has been attending the clinic every six months for nanosecond laser treatment.

“I feel so lucky and privileged that I got onto this trial, and that it might help my condition,” she says. Golda is hopeful that the data collected will help establish treatments to protect people’s sight.

“My experience has been absolutely fabulous,” she says. “Professor Guymer keeps saying thank you so much for participating. I say thank you so much for having me.”

Learn more about CERA’s clinical trials and how to participate.

Read more stories like this in CERA’s 2018 Annual Review. 


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