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Hair-Sized Stent Offers Hope For Patients Suffering From Glaucoma

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A tiny new device could help prevent a leading cause of blindness. The glaucoma implant is the size of a human hair, and was just approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Glaucoma is dangerous because it doesn't cause symptoms until you've permanently lost vision and as CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, the device provides new hope for patients who aren't helped by eye drops or surgery.

The condition is caused by too much fluid inside the eye, with the increased pressure damaging the optic nerve and leading to progressive vision loss.

Eugene Weise has had glaucoma in his left eye for 15 years. Since he's an ophthalmologist, he knows how important it is to do something to lower the pressure in his eye to prevent permanent vision loss. It used to mean three different eye drops administered twice daily.

"It's hard to remember," he said. "Compliance is very different. You get busy and forget. I use my cell phone alarm system to remind me. The drops irritate the eye, makes them red, crusts on eyelashes."

Eventually, the drops stopped working and laser surgery only helped for a while. That's when Dr. Weise paid Dr. Joseph Panarelli a visit at Mt. Sinai's Eye and Ear Infirmary for a new implant.

It's a tiny stent that drains off the excess fluid in Eugene's eye.

"It's also made of a very nice material that's well tolerated by the human body whereby you plant it, the body doesn't form a lot of scar tissue around it," Dr. Panarelli said.

A thin needle-like device inserts the stent in the eye. When it gets wet, it becomes soft and pliable. One end then goes to the front chamber of the eye and the other into the tissues at the periphery of the cornea where the fluid is absorbed.

The length and diameter of the stent automatically regulates the amount of fluid drained off. Additionally, vision recovery is very fast after the 15 minute procedure.

"Because it's minimally traumatic to the tissue, patients will often come back on day one or week one and say, 'I see pretty well already'," Dr. Panarelli said. "Versus a lot of our traditional glaucoma procedures, patients will take months to recover."

As for Weise, he says he was back to work within two or three days.

Like with every major procedure, the key is using it on the right patient. A big advantage to the Xen gel stent is that it works for a wide range of glaucoma patients, from relatively low eye pressures to fairly significant disease.

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