New Portable Laser Can Help Prevent Blindness

Until recent advances in laser technology, laser treatment for damage to the retina of the eye was expensive, painful, and difficult to come by for people suffering from eye retinopathies, a common complication of diabetes. The first lasers used for medical treatment were huge devices, weighing about 400 pounds and requiring 12,000 watts for their power. These laser systems were neither portable, nor were they widely available to people living in remote regions of the world.

What IRIS Medical Instruments, Inc. of Mountain View, California, has done to improve the availability of laser treatment is develop a laser system that is not only small and lightweight, but also has a reduced power requirement of 60 watts-it can operate off of a car battery. The IRIS OcuLight Diode Laser Photocoagulator, introduced in 1989, is about the size of a VCR and weighs in at 12 pounds. The small size and light weight of the OcuLight make it highly transportable, so that the patient no longer has to come to the laser system for treatment-the laser treatment can come to them. Ongoing programs have sent the OcuLight to some of the less accessible corners of the world, including Alaska, Siberia, Costa Rica, and Malaysia, where laser treatment was generally unavailable.

In November of 1992, IRIS Medical furthered the availability of laser eye treatment with the introduction of two slit lamp adapters for the OcuLight Diode Laser. The slit lamp adapters couple the OcuLight with the Zeiss and the Haag Streit slit lamp systems, both of which are commonly used by ophthalmologists in their offices. The slit lamp is a common diagnostic device used for looking inside of the eye for evidence of disease or damage. The adapters also make it possible for the OcuLight to be disconnected from one slit lamp and reconnected to another with the same compatibility.

The purpose of the new OcuLight adapters is to provide ordinary slit lamp systems with the capability of laser delivery, enabling physicians to both diagnose and treat retinal problems with the same equipment. This would make laser eye treatment possible from any physician with a Zeiss or a Haag Streit slit lamp in his/her office, causing for an enormous increase in medical laser availability. This massive increase in availability could have a huge impact on preventing diabetes-related blindness around the world.

With the combined system, ophthalmologists can aim and focus on a damaged spot in the eye using the slit lamp and accurately deliver a laser beam from the OcuLight Diode Laser. The slit lamp aims the OcuLight precisely, so that the laser beam strikes directly on its target, reducing the possibility for error. The laser treats the retina of the eye using a process called photocoagulation, where light energy from the laser is used to clot bleeding in the retina. The OcuLight is unique from previous lasers in that it does not produce a visible flash and causes less discomfort for the patient.

In the years before lasers were developed, the sun was the highest source of light energy available. Using optics to focus the sun’s rays into the eye was found to be an effective (but extremely painful) method for treating retinopathies. The first lasers used xenon arc light as a photon source and later, in the early 70’s, argon became the standard source for laser light. For the next twenty-years, it was this same laser technology that was used to heal retinopathies. At its most advanced, the argon laser weighed about 100 pounds.

The OcuLight uses semiconductor chips to produce a diode laser beam, a method that had never been used before with previous laser systems. The use of solid state electronics allows the OcuLight to be powered from a standard electrical outlet, and unlike previous laser systems which were driven by huge vacuum tubes, the OcuLight requires no external cooling. The OcuLight Diode Laser provides adjustable beam delivery, with a power of up to 2.0 watts and controllable exposure durations. Beam pulses can be adjusted to last from 50 milliseconds to 9 seconds in duration.

For more information on the OcuLight Diode Laser Photocoagulator and its adapters for the Zeiss and the Haag Streit slit lamps, write to: IRIS Medical Instruments, Inc., 340 Pioneer Way, Mountain View, CA, 94041, or call (415) 962-8100.

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