As someone who wears glasses, the idea of corrective laser eye surgery is certainly tempting. But then you start reading about how the invasive surgery is actually performed, along with some of (admittedly rare) risks, and suddenly glasses don’t seem so bad. Things could change, however, thanks to research coming out of Columbia University. Researchers there have developed a new noninvasive laser eye surgery which could permanently correct vision — minus any of the less pleasant-sounding aspects of regular laser surgery.
“The main difference between our approach and commonly used refractive surgeries is that in our method there is no flap cutting and no ablation,” Sinisa Vukelic, a researcher on the project, told Digital Trends. “Patients with thin corneas and other abnormalities that make them ineligible for refractive surgery could be treated with the proposed treatment, which in turn increases the population of eligible patients.”
The new methods involve something called a femtosecond oscillator, an ultrafast laser capable of delivering pulses of low energy very quickly. Using this laser, it’s possible to change the biochemical and biomechanical properties of the eye’s corneal tissue. Unlike laser-assisted corrective surgeries like Lasik, this can be done without thinning — and thereby potentially weakening — the cornea. Instead, the procedure involves using the laser to ionize the water molecules within the cornea. This creates a reaction oxygen molecule which interacts with collagen fibrils to selectively form “crosslinks” or chemical bonds that change the eye’s properties. Doing this can alter the overall corneal curvature of the eye, modifying its refractive power in order to correct the patient’s vision.
“We have done a lot of basic science to prove the principle and establish the technique,” Vukelic continued. “We have also done a lot of work on animal models which has proven the efficacy of the proposed treatment. At the moment, we are working on a clinical prototype. We do hope to disseminate this technology to the public, and we also hope that it will be widely adopted.” Clinical trials are planned to begin by the end of 2018.
A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Photonics.