A tiny glass telescope about the size of a garden pea could hold the answer to patients suffering from an otherwise untreatable type of eye disease.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition that causes blind spots to develop in the central area of the retina. Those who are unfortunate enough to develop it will find their central or 'straight ahead' vision increasingly impaired, making it difficult for them to read or recognise familiar faces. As yet there is no cure for the condition.

However, a pioneering miniature telescopic device developed by a healthcare technology firm has been successfully implanted into some AMD sufferers' eyes improving their central vision.

Developed and manufactured by VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies in the US, the Implantable Miniature Telescope, or IMT, is still undergoing evaluation trials in the States, despite having already been approved for use in Europe.

Practical benefits

According to Dr Janet Szlyk, a member of the US advisory panel, the device has already helped some AMD patients who previously saw only a blur when looking at a face to instead see a blur only in the region of the person's nose or mouth. "People can use it to recognize faces in a social setting," she said, underlining the practical benefits of the device.

According to VisionCare the telescope can be fitted to those patients who qualify during a short outpatient procedure. The device is fitted to one eye to improve 'central' vision, while the other eye is left to cover peripheral vision. All patients fitted with the device require extensive therapy to help deal with the different abilities of each eye, but the results have been encouraging thus far.

Ruth A Boocks, an 86-year-old triallist who was fitted with the device some years ago has said that her brain responded well to the implant, and that she is now able to use one eye for reading email and watching television. "I feel like a young woman ‑ it's opened a lot of opportunities for me," she said.

For more details on the latest in bionic-eye tech check out VisionCare's website.