Cataracts have been a leading cause of vision impairment throughout human history, but thanks to advances in healthcare technology, treatments are becoming far more adaptive and effective in even preventing the onset of cataracts in patients.
Taking the form of a cloudy area within the lens of your eye, cataracts can be particularly common for elderly patients. According to National Eye Institute (NEI) statistics, approximately 24.4 million Americans aged 40 years or older have been affected by cataracts. It’s also worth noting that cataracts can develop for many different reasons.
Although you may not notice that you have a cataract immediately, over time you may experience blurred or hazy vision that can become less colorful. This can impact your ability to read or perform your usual daily activities.
While cataracts can be inhibitive if they continue to get worse, technology is paving the way for new and innovative treatments that can help to restore the vision of sufferers.
The Continued Evolution of Cataracts Surgery
In recent years, technology has brought rise to Optiwave Refractive Analysis, or ORA for short, which works as a tool that surgeons can use to make refractive measurements in the operating room to provide optimal lens power and placement.
In the past, when a patient was preparing to undergo cataract surgery, surgeons would manually measure the size and shape of their eye to anticipate what lens would be needed, “but cataracts can throw off that measurement,” explained Vicente Diaz, MD, a Yale Medicine ophthalmologist. “ORA allows us to measure the eye again once we remove the cataract, and this tends to be more accurate, leading to a more accurate lens placement and, therefore, better vision.”
This machine takes an extra measurement of your eye during cataract surgery, which allows for a more accurate measurement of the lens that’s being placed inside it,” adds Yvonne Wang, MD, who also works as a Yale Medicine ophthalmologist. “Having an accurate measurement is really important to getting the best visual outcome. The newest lens designs allow for good vision at a distance, as well as reading. But to get those good outcomes, you need to have very accurate measurements.
New Imaging Technology Pioneers Preventative Measures
Cataracts can sometimes be caused as a complication of type 2 diabetes. But researchers have detected the early signs of damage in the eye before the onset of diabetes in a discovery that may suggest that these complications can initially emerge before diagnosis.
However, a study by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Health Campus Göttingen has begun to challenge existing hypotheses regarding the involvement of sugar as a driving force in the onset of diabetic cataracts.
To explore the origins of tissue damage in diabetes, the team, led by Dr Hafezi-Moghadam, conducted studies in the Nile grass rat, which is a model that has been reported to spontaneously develop type 2 diabetes when kept in captivity. Their onset of diabetes closely mimics the human experience of the condition.
Using advanced imaging technology, the study empowered researchers to witness for the first time dot-like microlesions that would otherwise have been impossible to detect.
These newly discovered micro-lesions precede all forms of diabetic cataract, and they also appeared before the animals entered hyperglycaemia, or high blood sugar.
“It became clear that there was more complexity than the sugar hypothesis was able to explain,” said Dr Ehsan Ranaei Pirmaradan, “We found immune cells in the vicinity of the lens and in the lens capsule. That drew our focus to a completely new direction.”
Thanks to this pioneering technology and the insight it brings, we can discover all about cataracts from a range of root causes in the future.
The Evolution of Cataract Surgery
Medtech firm LENSAR announced in August 2022 that it had begun taking on the first commercial cases performed with the firm’s Adaptive Cataract Treatment System, or ALLY for short.
Created by Dr Weinstock at The Eye Institute of West Florida, ALLY has been designed to bring evolutionary change to the treatment of cataracts in a more adaptive manner.
Utilizing technologies like augmented reality and cataract density imaging, it’s now possible for surgeons to make their procedures far more accurate and efficient for patients of varying needs.
“ALLY is changing the way surgeons are approaching cataract surgery. With improved efficiencies, ALLY is designed to enable surgeons to offer a premium cataract surgery experience to more patients.” said Nick Curtis, CEO of LENSAR. “ALLY is primed to assist surgeons in meeting the increasing demands of the large, fast-growing, cataract patient population with a premium, efficient experience.”
“LENSAR’s first-generation LLS systems have demonstrated a 99.7% uptime rating – a true laser workhorse – and we are aiming for ALLY to exceed these service ratings. Overall, our objective is to exceed surgeon, staff and patient expectations across all measures of performance,” Curtis added.
Cataracts Treatment in an AI-Powered Future
With artificial intelligence growing at a rapid rate, we can expect to see AI helping to deliver more accuracy in lens predictions in the future by instantly considering variable factors like the patient’s age, sex, their history of smoking, and which eye is being looked at with almost flawless accuracy.
This can also help to detect things that a human wouldn’t be able to identify on a more manual basis. Artificial intelligence could also help to analyze postoperative data to gain a better insight into whether refractive outcomes can be improved further.
As medtech continues to evolve alongside technology, there can be genuine hope that the impact of cataracts can be comfortably reversed in patients thanks to greater detection and more accuracy during procedures. In a world that’s blighted by many visual impairments, the elimination of cataracts as a cause for suffering can be a great milestone for healthcare.