Laser procedure turns brown eyes blue, scientist says

Laser technique said to change eye color by eliminating natural pigment in brown eyes. KTLA.com

Laser technique said to change eye color by eliminating natural pigment in brown eyes.
KTLA.com

(CBS) People with blue eyes are born that way, right? Maybe for now. But a California scientist claims to have developed a simple procedure that turns brown eyes blue.

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Is it safe? Dr. Gregg Homer of Calif.-based Stroma Medical, the company behind the experimental procedure, told KTLA.com that he's convinced it doesn't affect vision. But the color change is permanent, so those new baby blues will be crying if the old brown eyes are missed.

The key to the procedure is a specially tuned laser that destroys the natural brown pigment melanin in the iris, the eye's central colored portion. The laser treatment takes about 20 seconds, with the color change occurring gradually over the next two to three weeks.

The idea of using laser light to change eye color makes sense, Dr. Elmer Tu, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a spokesman for the American College of Ophthalmology, told CBS News. "Theoretically, it's possible if you go in and laser the eye to release the pigment that causes brown eyes," he said.

But Dr. Tu said safety could be an issue. The released pigment "has to go somewhere," he said, adding that a potentially blinding condition called pigmentary glaucoma is known to be associated with the chronic seepage of melanin into the fluid within the eye.

Why go to all that trouble - and face that possible risk - when you can just slip on a pair of colored contact lenses?

"Nineteen million people wear colored contact lenses, but light-colored contacts on dark eyes look unnatural and the wearer can't see as well," Doug Daniels, Stroma Medical's CEO, told msnbc.com. And as Dr. Tu said, contact lenses carry risks as well, including the possibliity of serious infections.

In any case, the technique isn't quite ready for prime time. Dr. Homer told KTLA that he foresees another year or so of testing, with the technique becoming available outside the U.S. within 18 months and in the U.S. within three years.

But blue eyes will cost plenty of green. According to KTLA, the procedure is expected to run about $5,000.

  • David W Freeman

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