Cataract surgery, the most common surgical operation performed on the planet, is about to become even more sophisticated following the recent approval by European and American regulatory authorities of a new type of lens.
The new light-adjustable lens, which should soon be widely available, can be adjusted with laser beams within 2 weeks of surgery, allowing most patients to fine-tune the focus before locking it into the lens permanently.
It was during the Battle of Britain in 1940 that an ophthalmologist in London, Dr Harold Ridley, made a remarkable observation. The eyes of several Spitfire pilots had been impaled by small splinters of cockpit Perspex, yet the eyes tolerated this material and recovered well.
Dr Ridley deduced that an optical focusing lens made of the same material could be implanted inside the eye, replacing the cataract lens in the middle of the eye and eliminating the need for thick, heavy spectacles.
Precise improvements in optical instruments and better surgical methods now allow eye surgeons to select acrylic lenses that accurately compensate for pre-existing focus problems such as impaired reading vision, and in many cases youthful vision is restored.
The new light-adjustable lens will, once again, forever change the way that eye surgeons perform lens replacement surgery, and bring us a step closer to the Holy Grail of spectacle-free vision at any age.