According to a new study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, the optical prosthetics, tiny enough to be balanced on a fingertip, dramatically improved the vision of about two thirds of 206 patients studied in a 24-month clinical trial.
Macular degeneration is a medical condition predominantly found in elderly people. Due to the disease, the centre of the inner lining of the eye, known as the macula area of the retina, suffers thinning, atrophy and in some cases bleeding.
This can result in loss of central vision, which leads to inability in seeing fine details, reading or recognising faces. There is no known treatment to correct macular degeneration.
Until now, physicians have focused on trying to reduce the risk of the disease and keep it in check with laser treatment, eyewear with special magnifying capabilities, and nutritional supplements including antioxidants and zinc.
"This is a good device and it offers hope for people with no other options," says lead author Kathryn Colby, an ophthalmologist and director of the Joint Clinical Research Centre at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.
The mini-scope, which needs an implant, has been developed by California-based VisionCare Ophthalmic Technologies. It works with the eye's cornea like a telephoto system, rendering an enlarged retinal image designed to reduce the area of diminished vision, reported the online edition of science magazine Scientific American.
This is not an easy fix, however, and surgeons are developing special techniques to properly and swiftly implant the device without damaging the eye.
The device is a compound telescope system that consists of a glass cylinder that is 4.4 mm in length and 3.6 mm in diameter and houses wide-angle micro-optics.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green signal to ophthalmologists for implanting the new miniature telescope-like devices in patients' damaged eyes.