Aus­tralian team share their vi­sion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Laser Eye Surgery -

WITH a ma­jor break­through in laser eye surgery be­ing her­alded glob­ally, Melbourne- based oph­thal­mol­o­gist Dr Noel Alpins is trav­el­ling the world to share his vi­sion.

Around 10 years ago, he de­vel­oped a new laser surgery tech­nique for im­prov­ing the out­comes for peo­ple un­der­go­ing laser eye cor­rec­tion for astig­ma­tism.

The tech­nique re­lies on a com­plex cal­cu­la­tion method called vec­tor plan­ning, and tri­als have been so suc­cess­ful that 60- year- old Dr Alpins has even treated his own daugh­ter with his wife’s bless­ing.

Around one mil­lion Aus­tralians are thought to suf­fer from astig­ma­tism and for­merly peo­ple suf­fer­ing from ker­a­to­conus, a thin­ning of the cornea of the eye, were deemed un­suit­able for laser eye surgery. But now, thanks to Dr Alpins, those one in 80 Aus­tralians now un­dergo treat­ment and en­joy cor­rected vi­sion.

This is an ad­vance on the cur­rent laser treat­ments and us­ing the new tech­nique we are able to treat th­ese very chal­leng­ing eyes, achieve what had never been done be­fore,’’ says Dr Alpins.

It’s a life- chang­ing pro­ce­dure,’’ ac­cord­ing to his col­league, 42- year- old op­tometrist Ge­orge Sta­mate­latos.

Peo­ple who have it and be­come free of glasses say it’s like a dream come true. The change is in­stant, and they love their im­proved qual­ity of lifestyle,’’ says Dr Alpins.

The en­thu­si­as­tic oph­thal­mo­logic duo re­cently re­turned from Stock­holm, where they pre­sented a course on treat­ing astig­ma­tism for a decade. He es­ti­mates that prob­a­bly 65 per cent or more of peo­ple have an astig­ma­tism.

Dr Alpins says of his tech­nique: ‘‘ It’s a so­phis­ti­cated pro­ce­dure - you just can’t send some­one a piece of soft­ware and ex­pect them to get on with it.’’

The two doc­tors be­lieve that around $ 2000-$ 3000 per eye, laser treat­ment has be­come a rou­tine and af­ford­able pro­ce­dure.

Dr Alpins ex­plains that his tech­nique dif­fers from con­ven­tional laser treat­ment in pay­ing at­ten­tion to the shape of the cornea, leav­ing this part of the eye in bet­ter shape af­ter surgery.

Suf­fer­ers of astig­ma­tism have a con­di­tion in which the cornea is more of an oval shape than the usual round shape, lead­ing to prob­lems such as headaches, blurred vi­sion, and tired­ness.

As glasses and con­tact lenses are not al­ways suit­able so­lu­tions for this con­di­tion, the pre­ci­sion achieved by the vec­tor plan­ning al­lows sur­geons to more ex­actly tar­get the ir­reg­u­lar­ity caused by astig­ma­tism.

Vec­tor plan­ning has been used by the clinic since 1994, and over that pe­riod some 10,000 pa­tients have been suc­cess­fully treated.

The doc­tors de­cided not to pub­lish un­til they had ac­cu­mu­lated 10 years of pa­tient fol­low- up to back up their claims.

The low re- treat­ment rate of two per cent over that pe­riod has im­pressed med­i­cal col­leagues, and the re­sults have re­cently made waves in­ter­na­tion­ally, be­ing fea­tured in ma­jor in­dus­try jour­nals.


with Dr

Sta­mate­latos, Dr

Alpins pi­o­neered a ground- break­ing trial to in­ves­ti­gate the ef­fec­tive­ness of the Vec­tor plan­ning laser surgery tech­nique.

They are de­lighted that they are now able to as­sist peo­ple whose eyes had pre­vi­ous been deemed un­suit­able for nor­mal laser eye surgery.

To prove his tech­nique worked in the im­me­di­ate and long term, Dr Alpins fi­nanced a decade- long study into the tech­nique which was pub­lished in a peer- re­viewed jour­nal two months ago.

Peer view is very de­mand­ing be­cause they put the man­u­script to some­one very ex­pert in the area,’’ says Dr Alpins.

How­ever, the re­sults and method­ol­ogy spoke vol­umes and his ar­ti­cles have been pub­lished in 14 peer re­view jour­nals. Since then, the world’s oc­u­lar press has been rav­ing about the tech­nique.

Now Dr Alpins’ and Dr Sta­mate­latos’ pass­ports show the proof of their global pop­u­lar­ity, and they are con­stantly be­ing ap­proached for in­ter­na­tional speak­ing en­gage­ments be­cause the tech­nique re­moves more of the astig­ma­tism and pro­vides a bet­ter re­sult for pa­tients.

While they re­ceived some ini­tial re­sis­tance to the Vec­tor process when they first pub­lished their re­sults in 1993, sur­geons around the world have since sat up and are tak­ing no­tice.

It was ob­vi­ously some­thing so new that we had a lot of trou­ble get­ting over the thresh­old, but now it’s been ac­cepted and we feel very grat­i­fied,’’ says Dr Alpins.

He has in­ter­na­tional patents on the tech­nique and is li­cens­ing the pro­gram out to other laser sur­geons world wide.

It’s cer­tainly not painful, and peo­ple are over the moon with the vis­ual re­sult,’’ he says.

Dr Alpins cur­rently runs three laser clin­ics in Melbourne.


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