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Infrared light could replace injections for macular oedema

A clinical trial at Sydney Eye Hospital is evaluating the safety and efficacy of using infrared light to treat macular oedema from retinal vein occlusions, instead of the current standard treatment of eye injections.

Near infrared light treatment is thought to work by stimulating cellular metabolism and repair.

Known as NIRVO (near infrared light for the treatment of macular oedema from retinal vein occlusions), the study is being led by the Save Sight Institute (SSI) Macular Research Group (MRG) at the University of Sydney.

Retinal vein occlusion. Image A shows an inferior branch retinal vein occlusion with retinal hemorrhages. Image B is a cross section through the macula showing macular oedema. Image: Save Sight Institute

The project, which received support from the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia, recently enrolled its third participant.

According to the researchers, retinal vein occlusions typically occur in patients aged over 50 with cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking.

They said eye injections work well but most patients need to continue them for many years to maintain their vision because they are only effective for one to two months.

The institute believes a less invasive treatment may have many advantages and be better tolerated.

Images A&C show before treatment, while B&D are show post-near infrared light therapy for macular oedema due to diabetic retinopathy. A&B: Retinal images demonstrating thickening/swelling with the red shading. A is before treatment and B is following treatment. C&D: Cross section through the macula with macular oedema (red arrow, C) that resolves after near infrared light treatment (D). Image: Save Sight Institute.

The MRG recently published results from a pilot study in Diabetologia, the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, demonstrating that near infrared light was effective and safe when treating macular oedema due to diabetic retinopathy.

According to results, 12 90-second treatment sessions with infrared light reduced the patients’ macular oedema and the subsequent requirement for eye injections.

The US Diabetic Retinopathy Research Collaboration is currently recruiting for a larger study with near infrared light which may or may not confirm MRG’s findings.

“The NIRVO study may provide proof-of-principle for a definitive placebo controlled clinical trial which would be required before the treatment could be widely adopted,” the SSI said.

“We are very excited to see what we will learn from this new potential treatment.”

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