From the annuls of the bizarre and absurd… a former entertainment lawyer-turned-eye doctor has developed a laser treatment that changes people’s eye colour. Having trialled the procedure on dead people he has now delivered the treatment to 17 extremely short-sighted people in Mexico. They have been offered lens transplants in return for taking part.
Dr. Gregg Homer, who claims 20 seconds of laser light can remove pigment in brown eyes so they gradually turn blue, is seeking up to USD$750,000 of investment to continue clinical trials.
The process involves a computerised scanning system that takes a picture of the iris and works out which areas to treat. The laser is then fired, using a proprietary pattern to hit one spot of the iris at a time. When it has hit every spot it then starts again, repeating the process several times.
“The laser agitates the pigment on the surface of the iris,” said Dr Homer. “We use two frequencies that are absorbed by dark pigment, and it is fully absorbed so there is no danger of damage to the rest of the eye.
the work is checked by a board of ophthalmology experts to ensure it is up to standard
“It heats it up and changes the structure of the pigment cells. The body recognises they are damaged tissue and sends out a protein. This recruits another feature that is like little pac-men that digest the tissue at a molecular level.”
He said that after the first week of treatment, the eye colour turns darker as the tissue changes its characteristics. Then the digestion process starts, and after a further one to three weeks the blueness appears.
Since the pigment – called melanin – does not regenerate the treatment is irreversible.
Global eye experts have expressed reservations. “The pigment is there for a reason. If the pigment is lost you can get problems such as glare or double vision,” said Larry Benjamin, a consultant eye surgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, in the UK.
“Having no eye pigment would be like having a camera aperture with a transparent blade. You wouldn’t be able to control the light getting in.”
However, Dr Homer said he only removes the pigment from the eye’s surface.
“This is only around one third to one half as thick as the pigment at the back of the iris and has no medical significance,” he said.
He also claimed patients would be less sensitive to light than those born with
blue eyes. He reasoned that brown-eyed people have more pigment in the other areas of their eyeballs, and most of it will be left untouched.
“We run tests for 15 different safety examination procedures. We run the tests before and after the treatment, and the following day, and the following weeks, and the following months and the following three months.
“Thus far we have no evidence of any injury.” Dr. Homer said the work is checked by a board of ophthalmology experts to ensure it is up to standard.
He said the new funds being raised will be used to complete safety trials with a further three people. Stroma Medical, the company set up to commercialise the process, then intends to raise a further USD$15m to manufacture hundreds of lasers and launch overseas – ideally within 18 months.
A U.S launch is planned in three years’ time, because it takes longer to get regulatory approval there.
Stroma Medical believes the treatment will be popular; its survey of 2,500 people suggested 17 per cent of Americans would want it if they knew it was completely safe. A further 35 per cent would seriously consider it.