Two new studies add to the growing body of evidence that a new approach to cataract surgery may be safer and more efficient than today's standard procedure. The new approach, using a special femtosecond laser, is FDA-approved, but not yet widely available in the United States. It's one of the hottest topics at the 115th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Research reported on October 23, 2011, by Dr. William W. Culbertson, of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and by Dr. Mark Packer, of Oregon Health and Sciences University, confirms several advantages of laser cataract surgery. Dr. Culbertson's team studied how pre-treating cataracts with the femtosecond laser affected the level of ultrasound energy needed to soften the cataracts. This emulsification is performed so that the cataracts can be easily suctioned out. Surgeons want to use the lowest possible level of ultrasound energy, since in a small percentage of patients it is associated with slower recovery of good vision after surgery and/or problems with the cornea, which is the clear outer layer of the eye. Ideally, in appropriate cases, ultrasound use would be eliminated altogether. In Dr. Culbertson's prospective, randomized study, 29 patients had laser cataract surgery with a femtosecond laser in one eye and the standard cataract procedure, called phacoemulsification, in the other. Laser surgery included: a laser capsulotomy, which is a circular incision in the lens capsule, followed by laser lens fragmentation, then ultrasound emulsification and aspiration. Lens fragmentation involved using the laser to split the lens into sections and then soften it by etching cross-hatch patterns on its surface.
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