Implant could help save sight in glaucoma patients


CHICAGO, Ill. – More than two million Americans have glaucoma, but only half know it.  Untreated, it can cause blindness. In the past glaucoma sufferers either had to undergo risky surgery or use daily eye drops to help manage this incurable disease. Now, a new implant is helping to eliminate the need for either.

"It feels so good," said Linda Sabatini.

Sabatini thought she had seen the last of driving. She was slowly losing her vision from cataracts and glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease where fluid pressure builds up inside the eye.

"A sustained elevated pressure then causes damage to the optic nerve, the nerve in the back of the eye," said David M. Lubeck, MD, Ophthalmologist, Arbor Centers for EyeCare.

Doctors implanted a tiny titanium device in Sabatini's left eye. It's called iStent.  It creates a channel for excess fluid to drain and lower the eye pressure.

"It is minimally invasive. It has little risk compared to other major glaucoma surgeries, and can effectively reduce the pressure in many patients," Lubeck said.

The iStent surgery is performed during normal cataract surgery, using the same incisions. The new procedure can reduce or eliminate the need for open angle glaucoma patients to use up to three types of glaucoma medications daily.

In fact, 68 percent of glaucoma patients who received the iStent remained medication free at 12 months.

While Sabatini's new lens from the cataract surgery is what enables her to see clearly, it's the iStent that will prevent her from losing vision from glaucoma.

"I can see so clearly," Sabatini said.

Even with the iStent surgery, glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. However, with medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision.

Additional Information:

Glaucoma is a complicated disease where damage to the optic nerve leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss. It is the second most common cause of blindness in the United States. Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, there may be no symptoms to warn you, and there is no cure for the disease. It is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it. (Source: http://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/glaucoma-facts-and-stats.php)

TYPES:  There are four major types of glaucoma:

  • Open-angle (chronic) glaucoma: an increase in eye pressure occurs slowly over time. The pressure pushes on the optic nerve. Unknown cause, tends to run in families
  • Angle-closure (acute) glaucoma: occurs when the exit of the aqueous humor fluid is suddenly blocked. This causes a quick, severe, and painful rise in the pressure in the eye. This is an emergency, and if you have had acute glaucoma in one eye, you are at risk for an attack in the second eye.
  • Congenital glaucoma: seen in babies and present at birth due to abnormal eye development.
  • Secondary glaucoma: caused by drugs like corticosteroids, eye diseases, systemic diseases, or trauma.
  • (Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002587/)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A new device called iStent is designed to release some of the fluid buildup associated with open-angle glaucoma. The iStent is the smallest device ever approved by the FDA, and is designed to be inserted into the eye during normal cataract surgery. The device creates a permanent opening to release eye pressure, easing some of the symptoms of glaucoma. Although it can't bring back sight, the iStent can get patients off daily glaucoma medications. In a trial, 68 percent of patients who had the iStent were medication-free 12 months after the surgery. (Source: http://www.glaukos.com/istent)