Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) affects more than 300,000 people in the EU and is the leading cause of loss of eyesight in people over the age of 50. It is caused when abnormal blood vessels start growing under the macula, the region of the retina providing central vision. These new vessels are fragile and leaky, leading to an accumulation of blood and fluid that lifts the surface of the macula from its normal position, causing scarring, and loss of photoreceptors (cones and rods) that enable sight.
But the Oraya Robot which is being trialled across Europe, offers new hope to AMD patients. Tim Jackson, a consultant eye surgeon, and the trial’s leader at Kings College London, said: “A robot essentially fires in three beams of radiation into the eye that overlap at the back of the eye, the macular, the bit that’s damaged and the idea of the radiation is that it shuts down all the blood vessels that are causing it problems and tries to eliminate the disease rather than just suppress it as the injections do. The active lesions are the ones where the blood vessels are growing very vigorously at the back of the eye and radiation preferentially knocks out proliferating cells.”
The robot gets better results than conventional drug therapies because it can treat very small lesions (less than 4 millimeters large). And because the abnormal cells are selectively destroyed rather than temporarily suppressed, radiation may produce a more long-lasting effect than drug injections alone. Patients given this treatment need around 30% fewer injections but scientists are researching the possible side effects of long term x-ray exposure.