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Unusual Tooth-Implant Restores Blind Patient's Sight

Unusual Tooth-Implant Restores Blind Patient's Sight

Jason Mick / DailyTech

September 21, 2009

A bizarre new medical technique may help some victims of impaired vision.

While synthetic eyeballs — either of electronic or organic nature — advance towards one day replacing vision, scientists are also developing new near-term procedures to save or restore patients’ vision. Among these is the osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis, or MOOKP, a bizarre technique that uses a tooth to implant a synthetic lens in patients with cornea damage.

Typically prosthetic lenses can be implanted into patients without the need for such extreme measures. However, in some patients the extreme damage makes it impossible for a clean implantation. That’s where the MOOKP comes in. The procedure involves removing one of the patient’s teeth and using it to anchor the lens. The procedure had been successfully performed in Europe and Asia, but never before in the U.S. — until now.

Doctors at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine successfully completed surgery on 60-year-old Sharron Thornton over Labor Day Weekend. Ms. Thornton, was legally blinded by a unexpected reaction to a drug in 2000. Her options were limited, as here eye surface was too dry for a corneal implant.

So doctors turned to the controversial and outlandish MOOKP method, never before attempted in the States. Ms. Thornton’s ironically named eye tooth and part of her jaw bone were removed and sculpted to form a base for the lens. The lens-bone combination was then implanted into a pouch in the patient’s cheek, where it was encased in living tissue. A hole was then cut in the cornea and the tissue-bone-lens capsule was implanted into the eye, with lens covering the hole. The mucous membrane was then pulled back over the eye like a blanket and a hole was cut to let light pass through the artificial lens.

Thanks to the procedure Ms. Thornton has now regained sight. States ophthalmologist and surgeon Victor Perez who helped perform the procedure, “Sharron was able to see 20/60 this morning. She was seeing only shadows a couple of weeks ago.”

The radical technique is not without its downsides. Describes James Chodosh, a faculty member at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, “It’s a pretty radical operation and can be disfiguring.”

Still, some with vision impairments feel the disfigured appearance would be more than worth it for the chance to see again. Ms. Thornton says being able to see clearly and read again is “like Christmas”. She states, “Without sight, life is really hard. I’m hoping this surgery will help countless people.”

© DailyTech 2009

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