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Wednesday, 17 March, 1999, 15:57 GMT
Eyesight cure for the ageing
Presbyopia affects most people over 40
by BBC science correspondent Sue Nelson

A new eye operation could help reverse the process which leaves most people over 40 needing glasses to focus on near objects.

Presbyopia causes the vision to deteriorate and become blurred with age.

But an operation being done at the Ultralase clinic in Chester could correct the problem.

It is based on US research.

Until recently, it was assumed that ageing caused the focusing muscles to become weaker and the lens to become more inflexible.

The US research, however, suggests that the lens keeps growing as people get older and the ligaments become too slack for the muscles to work properly.

According to this theory, restoring the tension would make the muscles work normally.

Plastic bands

The operation, which takes less than one and a half hours and is performed under local anaesthetic, involves inserting four tiny plastic bands under the surface of the white of the eye.

The bands are made of the same material as is used in cataract surgery.

They take up the slack on the ligaments between the eye muscles and the lens.

Older people often have difficulty focussing on near objects
Maintenance officer David Heaton was the first person in the UK to benefit from the operation.

Six years ago, his sight began to grow blurred, meaning he almost abandonned his woodwork hobby.

"I can now see what I am doing," he said.

David Harris of Ultralase said: "One of the most exciting things about this operation is it shows that for the last 150 years or so we have completely misunderstood how we focus on near objects.

"This US research has brought us a new surgical procedure which is helping to reverse the problem."


But not everyone is as optimistic about the operation.

Julian Stevens of Moorfields Eye Hospital urged caution.

"With any novel treatment one would expect to see novel side effects and potentially novel complications so the risks have yet to be established," he said.

The operation is currently not available on the NHS and costs around 5,000 for both eyes.

But independent surgeons are being trained to perform it and the Chester clinic hopes to eventually make it more acceptable across the UK.

The BBC's Sue Nelson on the presbyopia operation
See also:

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Part of human eye grown in cheek
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