“Ophthalmology is an exciting field because about every 10 years it reinvents itself with technology that completely changes the way we practice,” says my 70-plus-year-old partner, Roger Ohanessian, reflecting on his nearly 50-year career.
In the 1970s, it was intraocular lens implants, a new and very controversial development introduced by Sir Harold Ridley, and other IOLs were derived from the observation that WWII fighter pilots had no inflammation from acrylic intraocular foreign bodies from shattered fighter plane canopies.
In the ’80s, phacoemulsification came from Charlie Kelman’s idea that ultrasound instruments used in dental cleaning could soften a crystalline lens. The idea ushered in small-incision cataract surgery.
In the ’90s, excimer laser surgery gave birth to the mass appeal of vision correction surgery, but the lasers were first used for etching microchips until Stephen Trokel had a different idea — to etch the cornea.
In the ’00s, it was premium implants that permitted refractive cataract surgery. The first multifocal designs were created by Michael Simpson, an optical guru at 3M, who was designing lenses for traffic signals, according to our Chief Medical Editor Richard Lindstrom, who helped 3M adapt the idea for the eye.
In this decade, MIGS may be the most exciting development. Nitinol, a remarkable metal used in cardiology stents, inspired MIGS devices like the soon-to-be-approved Ivantis Hydrus stent, first introduced by two cardiac stent R&D experts, Tom Hektner and Chuck Euteneuer, according to Dave Van Meter, CEO of Ivantis. The same cardiac stent material is used on the Iantech miLOOP device for cataract surgery, created by Sean Ianchulev.
The great thinkers who brought these innovations to eye care were inspired not by what they saw at ophthalmology conferences but by observing unrelated medical specialties and scientific disciplines. Tomorrow’s innovators will surely do that same. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
Disclosure: Hovanesian reports he is a consultant to Alcon, Johnson & Johnson Vision, Bausch + Lomb, Ivantis and Glaukos and is an investor in Iantech.