By Sophie Borland
UK's Daily Mail
An X-ray treatment that could save the sight of thousands is being trialled on the NHS.
The 15-minute procedure has been shown to halt wet age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common forms of blindness in the elderly.
Around 250,000 suffer from this debilitating condition which, if not treated, can cause loss of sight in just three months.
Currently sufferers have to undergo monthly injections in their eye for the rest of their lives to prevent them from going blind, and they are often unable to read, drive or live independently.
But early trials of the new procedure have shown that it could halt the progression of the condition immediately, saving the NHS £300million a year.
The trials on 60 people in Mexico showed that half did not need any more treatment while the remainder needed infrequent injections – only a few each year.
Wet AMD is caused when blood vessels grow over an area in the middle of the retina called the macular, which is at the back of the eye.
It is currently treated with several drugs, including Lucentis and Avastin, which temporarily stop the vessels from growing.
But the powerful new procedure, called iRay, can destroy the blood vessels completely. Patients sit at the front of a machine and place their chin on a rest while X-rays are beamed into the back of their eye.
The procedure lasts between 15 and 20 minutes and is estimated to cost around £4,000 a time. A year’s worth of the monthly injections costs £12,000.
The procedure, developed by U.S. firm Oraya Therapeutics, is being tested at London’s Kings College Hospital and doctors are hoping to recruit 50 more patients to take part in the trials.
If successful, it could be rolled out in hospitals nationwide and researchers believe it could save the NHS up to £300million a year.
Consultant ophthalmic surgeon Tim Jackson, who is leading the trial, said: ‘This is an exciting new technology that targets one of the most common causes of blindness in the UK.
‘If the initial results are borne out in these important larger studies then a majority of patients will have something to look forward to – an easily administered, one-off treatment that maintains or improves vision, and fewer injections into their eye.’
There are around 20,000 new cases of wet AMD in Britain every year, mostly Occurring in the over-60s.
The condition is more common among women, and is thought to be linked to smoking and heavy drinking.
Jonny Gathorne-Hardy, 77, is one of the first British patients to undergo the treatment.
He was diagnosed with wet AMD in his right eye last June and had been receiving injections of Lucentis almost every month.
But since undergoing the treatment at the beginning of December he has not needed a single injection. Mr Gathorne-
Hardy, an author of children’s books, described the procedure as ‘painless’.
He lives in Binham, near Fakenham in Norfolk, and had to travel more than 20 miles every month to Norwich for the injections.
Mr Gathorne-Hardy said: ‘The Lucentis injections are fairly frightening. I’ll be delighted if I never need any more.’