Two decades ago there were no cures for age-related macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
But now patients in Sheffield are the first in the country being given a state-of-the-art therapy, harnessing low-energy X-rays to treat the eye condition.
Experts at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital have been given approval to use the new treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration - AMD for short – reducing the need for expensive drugs which have put a significant burden on the NHS.
If left untreated, the illness can quickly lead to a loss of central vision.
However, a number of new approaches have been developed to tackle the serious complaint, which affects around 250,000 people in the UK.
Current treatments involve regular injections into the eye – but these can be uncomfortable for patients and involve repeated hospital trips.
Eye specialists at the Hallamshire have begun treating some patients with wet AMD using Oraya Therapy, which delivers painless, highly-targeted, low-energy X-rays to the eye.
Sheila Brooks, an 83-year-old retired sewing machine operator, is one of the first patients to be treated.
“I was diagnosed with wet AMD in my left eye three years ago and since then I have had nine injections in my left eye,” she said.
“I don’t like the injections, nor the regular 28-mile round trip to the hospital, so the X-ray therapy was very appealing to me.” The X-rays are delivered by a robotic device which uses low-level radiation, similar to a dental X-ray.
The treatment, which takes a matter of minutes, works by controlling or stopping leakage of blood or fluid from blood vessels by focusing the X-ray beams on the back of the eyes, which reduces scarring and improves vision by drying up the leakage.
The treatment is given once and used in combination with injections of drugs.
A European trial has shown the approach can reduce the number of injections patients with wet AMD need by 45 per cent.
Consultant ophthalmologist Christopher Brand said he welcomed the prospect of reducing the number of injections patients had to endure.
This would have further benefits for the NHS by reducing the amount of cash spent on drugs, allowing the treatment to pay for itself.
“Wet AMD is an aggressive form of one of the most commonest eye diseases, and treatment can often be uncomfortable, with patients having to have regular injections on a monthly, or two-monthly basis, or in perpetuity,” he said.
“Current treatments can cost the NHS upwards of £700 per injection, so not only should Oraya Therapy benefit patients but it will also be more cost effective.”
Mr Brand added: “Injections are still a valuable option for the treatment of wet AMD for many patients as the new treatment will not be appropriate for all patients.
“If it means a patient can have two fewer injections, it saves money.”