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Highlights of the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR)
Congressional Briefing

DEVELOPMENTS IN LASIK AND CORNEAL HEALING:
The New Wave in Ophthalmology-Making Sense
of Wavefront Sensing and Customized Corneal Ablation

At a briefing held September 23 on Capitol Hill and sponsored by the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR), world-renowned ophthalmologists Peter McDonnell, M.D ., and Terrence O'Brien, M.D ., educated Congressional staff about the latest developments in LASIK and corneal healing, while leading ophthalmic manufacturer Alcon, Inc. provided LASIK screening.

Dr. McDonnell, Director of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, provided an overview of the various refractive errors that impair vision, including myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (blurry focus) and presbyopia (the need for bifocals). He noted that refractive surgery is one of the most frequently performed surgeries in the United States, with more than one million people each year treated using laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK).

Dr. O'Brien, Director of Refractive Surgery and Ocular Infectious Diseases at Wilmer, spoke about the use of wavefront-guided technologies to create a "fingerprint" of the eye, quantifying refractive errors and other aberrations. He expanded on the use of wavefront in custom refractive ablation with LASIK, noting its use in correcting refractive errors, erasing corneal scarring, and improving the shape of the cornea, often obviating the need for risky corneal transplants.

Dr. McDonnell and Dr. O'Brien acknowledged that the National Eye Institute (NEI) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided support for many of the technologies underpinning LASIK, including eye tracking devices, corneal topographic measuring systems, and studies on corneal wound healing. They concluded by cautioning attendees that more Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness and visual impairment. "Diabetic eye disease, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma affect millions of Americans, and these conditions are growing at a significant rate, especially as the baby boom population ages," reported Dr. McDonnell.

Emphasizing Dr. McDonnell's comments, James Jorkasky, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (NAEVR), requested that Congress fund the NEI at $711 million in Fiscal Year 2004 , in order to complete the promised doubling of its budget since FY1998 and bring it into proportion with the other Institutes within NIH.

Jorkasky directed comments to the staffs of committees with jurisdiction over small business and defense, in addition to appropriations staff, that the investment in eye and vision research has additional economic and societal benefits. Although current LASIK technology is well established, there is considerable research and development focused on refining the technique and advancing its capabilities. These technological enhancements are driven primarily by entrepreneurs in small business, using the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant mechanism. He also added that wavefront technology research could lead to improvements in visual acuity that lie beyond the normal 20-20 and produce so-called "super vision", which could have far-reaching implications for military personnel for whom distance acuity has an enormous performance advantage.


Congressional staff registering for the Briefing


Jan Watson of Alcon, Inc. conducts LASIK screening


Dr. McDonnell describes refractive errors


Hill staff hear the latest on eye and vision research


Dr. O'Brien describes the use of wavefront technology in custom ablation