Is there a real laser that will soon be used to treat cataracts?
A new laser therapy that can potentially remove cataracts from people's eyes more efficiently and with greater precision was presented on October 24, 2009 at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) annual meeting. The technology, currently undergoing clinical trials outside the USA, was developed by LenSar, a start-up company which is in a head-to-head competition with two other players to be the first to commercialize the technology. LenSar plans to start treating patients if the FDA will consider the results of the remaining trials to be both safe and effective.
Although the new device will cost more than existing technologies, the speed of surgery may compensate for that by allowing more procedures to be performed in less time. The new LenSar laser cataract device is designed to be safer and easier to use, and it is believed that most cataract surgeons can learn to use it to perform surgeries with less complications. The laser will allow for the use of "premium" implants which set up bifocal vision as well as provide a better way to treat astigmatism.
Cataracts are presently treated with a devise known as a Phacoemulsifier, which uses ultrasound waves to break up the contents of the cataract and was nicknamed in the mid-seventies a "laser". This 35 years old device is generally very safe, however results are largely dependent on the individual surgeon's skills. LenSar suggests that their laser will make cataract surgery easier to perform, perhaps transforming average eye surgeons into surgeons equipped with safer and better technology, benefitting the three million patients who undergo cataract surgery annually in the U.S.
LenSar's CEO, Randy Frey, Ph.D., a well-acclaimed scientist known best for the Lasik laser he developed, formed LenSar in 2004 which has had about 100 operations performed outside of the U.S. with promising results. Although his cataract laser concept has spurred competing companies, Frey claims that he holds important patent applications which allow the company to focus on R&D and pay less attention to competitors. It is his belief that LenSar's patents will prevail and will have a legal claim on any such devices, regardless of their maker.
The real financial benefit for LenSar is not in the sale of the laser but in the "royalty-like" fee that is paid to the company each time the laser is used. Laser eye surgery devices by companies such as Alcon, Bausch and Lomb, and AMO have generated billions in revenue using this "click fee" strategy.