Breakthroughs: Sight-saving lasers

Promise Magazine: Spring/Summer 2015

Innovations in surgical laser technology could soon offer patients at St. Paul’s’s Eye Clinic new treatment possibilities for some of the most common causes of vision loss in Canada.

The proposed acquisition of a new $100,000 state-of-the-art combined laser system known as Nd:YAG/SLT would give eye specialists at St. Paul’s Eye Clinic the technology they need to continue to deliver timely, world-leading care to British Columbians suffering from degenerative eye diseases.

“Nd:YAG and SLT lasers have become essential to basic care,” says Dr. Pierre Faber, head of ophthalmology at St. Paul’s. “It’s vital we bring it to St. Paul’s, especially consid- ering our aging population and the number of cataract and glaucoma patients we see.”

Millions of Canadians are affected by cataracts – a condition that causes the lens of the eye to become cloudy and block light, interfering with vision – and glaucoma, which is caused by a buildup of pressure inside the eye that can lead to vision loss. The dual laser system is extremely versatile and will allow doctors to switch between Nd:YAG mode, for the post-operative care of cataract patients, and SLT mode, for the treatment of glaucoma – an option currently unavailable at St. Paul’s.

“We estimate that within a year of acquiring our own SLT system, we will perform 800 procedures,” says Faber. “The need is that great.”

SLT surgery, which stands for Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty, employs the laser to alleviate pressure in glaucoma-affected eyes, and is a procedure that can be per- formed in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee.

“It is not painful, it’s non-invasive, and it can be done in about 20 minutes, right in the eye clinic,” says Faber. “Then the patient can go home.”

The other component of the laser, known as Nd:YAG, serves to perform a procedure called a posterior capsulotomy: the removal of vision-obscuring scar tissue that can form on the membrane behind the implanted lens after cataract surgery.

“Cataract surgery is the most common surgery we perform and pretty much everybody that has had cataract surgery will eventually have to have this procedure done,” says Faber. “That represents a lot of patients in need and we’re hoping, with this new laser, that we can address some of that need.”

To learn how to support the acquisition of a new Nd:YAG/SLT laser system, please contact St. Paul’s Foundation at 604-682-8206 or visit our Donate page.