Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cat's Eye Implants May Help Humans See

In "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Geordi La Forge is a blind character who can see through the assistance of special implants. While the Star Trek character "lives" in the 24th century, people existing in the 21st century may not have to wait that long for this illuminating technology. Kristina Narfstrom, a University of Missouri, Columbia, veterinary ophthalmologist, has been working with a microchip implant to help blind animals "see." She indicates that the preliminary results are promising.

"About one in 3,500 people worldwide is affected with a hereditary disease, retinitis pigmentosa, that causes the death of retinal cells and, eventually, blindness.

"Our current study is aimed at determining safety issues in regard to the implants and to further develop surgical techniques," Narfstrom explains. "We also are examining the protection the implants might provide to the retinal cells that are dying due to disease progression with the hope that natural sight can be maintained much longer than would be possible in an untreated patient."

Narfstrom is involved primarily with Abyssinian and Persian cats that are affected with hereditary retinal blinding disease. The cat's eye is a good model to use for this type of research because it is very similar to a human eye in size and construction, so surgeons can utilize the same techniques and equipment. Cats also share many of the same eye diseases with humans. The Abyssinian cats that Narfstrom is working with typically start to lose their sight when they are around one or two years old and are completely blind by age four.

During surgery, Narfstrom makes two small cuts in the sclera, the outer wall of the eyeball. After removing the vitreous, which is the gelatinous fluid inside the back part of the eyeball, Narfstrom creates a small blister in the retina and a tiny opening, large enough for the microchip, which is just two millimeters in diameter and 23 micrometers (one-millionth of a meter) thick. The chip includes several thousand microphotodiodes that react to light and produce small electrical impulses in parts of the retina.

"We are really excited about the potential uses for this technology and the potential to create improved vision in some of the millions of people affected worldwide with retinal blindness," Narfstrom relates. "This technology also may be beneficial for pets that have similar diseases because this technology can benefit both animals and humans."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Myth Of The Month

No matter how many times Mom warned you about this, it's simply not true, says Marguerite McDonald, M.D., a clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center. "Reading in poor lighting will not physically change the eye in any way," she says. "The reason for this misconception is that bright light actually enhances your ability to read because it constricts the pupil, making it easier to focus and see clearly." Younger women may read in dim light for hours on end without any serious consequences, says McDonald. But once you hit your early 40s, this habit may have other effects, such as short-term tension headaches and tired eyes. The reason: "The eye lens becomes more opaque and less flexible as you get older, which makes it difficult to see things at close range to begin with, let alone in poor lighting," she says. "Eventually we'll all need a bright lamp in order to curl up with a good book."

Shape, Jun2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

West Virginia University remembers founder of Eye Institute

By Eric Bowen

Jun. 19--Ophthalmologist Robert Trotter had a promising career in ophthalmic research at Harvard. But when he found out in the early 1960s that WVU was building a new medical school without an ophthalmology department, he decided to make it his work to ensure the school would include a department for eye specialists.

Trotter uprooted his family and moved back to Morgantown. For two years, he worked part-time in his brother's eye practice while he filed for grants and lobbied for money to build an ophthalmology department without the university's support.

In 1961, when he finally got a government grant, he founded the only department of ophthalmology in the state. It has grown into what is now the WVU Eye Institute.

Trotter died last year, and WVU remembered him Monday with a memorial service at the institute he worked so hard to build. He was recognized as a Distinguished Mountaineer through a proclamation from Gov. Joe Manchin.

"We're so happy to have this kind of institution," said Lionel Chisholm, vice chair of the WVU department of ophthalmology. "It all started with the commitment of Dr. Trotter. I think he deserves a tremendous amount of credit."

Trotter was a 1936 graduate of WVU and went on for medical training at Temple University, then Harvard to study ophthalmology. After founding the ophthalmology department, he served as chair for 20 years, until 1981, training dozens of doctors in ophthalmology.

When he left WVU, Trotter worked in private practice before retiring in 1988.

Trotter's wife, Jodie, said that founding the WVU ophthalmology department was a tremendous accomplishment for her late husband. He went through lean times as a clinician for two years before he received the money to build the department.

"It had to be the highest point of his life," she said. "It was that important to him."

Trotter was dedicated to WVU students, Jodie Trotter said. He was rough on his students, but they learned a lot from him.

"I think there were some that might have called him colorful names, but when it was all over, they knew it was for the best," she said.

Robert Trotter had a vision for what could be achieved at WVU when he came back to the state, said Fred Butcher, vice president for health sciences. Though WVU was just beginning to build a prominent medical school in West Virginia, he could see a future for the university.

He also wanted to care for the people of West Virginia, Butcher said. He came back home to lend his skills to the next generation of ophthalmologists.

"I think [Trotter] had instincts about what was going to happen here," Butcher said. "Things were coming up out of a cow pasture on top of a mountain. Now look what's here today."