Queensland doctor’s bizarre treatment for blindness
TALK about eye teeth. This Gold Coast doctor is taking it literally, putting teeth in patients' eyes to restore sight - and is now receiving national acclaim for the bizarre treatment.
Dr Shannon Webber, oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Pindara Private Hospital, first carried out the revolutionary procedure with Sydney ophthalmologist Dr Greg Moloney three years ago.
By using a world-first spin on the technique, they have now helped seven previously blind people to see so they can drive again, play sports and in some cases see their grandchildren for the first time. Only two or three patients a year meet the criteria for the operation.
The duo will embark on their eighth operation this month and submit their technique for publication and review in prestigious world surgical journals.
"It can only be done on a very specific type of blindness where the cornea has been scarred, and is often seen as a last resort," Dr Webber said.
He said he understood just how odd the treatment sounded to patients.
"It is a bizarre sell when you tell them, but when people who have been blind for decades learn they may get their lives back, they are desperate to do anything," Dr Webber said.
The two-stage operation, called Osteo-odonto-keratoprosthesis (OOKP), is undertaken at the Sydney Eye Hospital.
It involves the removal of the patient's canine tooth (also known as the eye tooth), which is stripped down and drilled. A small optical cylinder is placed inside the tooth, which is then connected in the eye with a skin graft.
The 3-4 hour operation has been performed in Europe but the surgery has been perfected by the two Australian doctors.
Dr Webber and Dr Moloney, the only two in Australia to perform the operations, had built on the OOKP by modifying the operation to create better blood supply to the eye, using the patient's own scalp tissue - a world first.
Their modifications even won best paper of session when presented at the 2019 American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) meeting in San Diego.
"The reason they use a tooth is because the tissue lasts. People had tried synthetic containers but eventually everything just gets spat out of the eye,'' Dr Webber said.
"A tooth is the only thing that held it in place."
The difference between success and failure can often only be a literally a matter of millimetres, but Dr Webber said the true test would be ensuring patients still had perfect vision in 20 years.
"This is most certainly our aim and rationale behind modifying the procedure to improve longevity of the graft materials (teeth)," he said.
Patients regained sight in one eye in a space of three months.
"At the end I would say it is one of the most rewarding procedures we do." he said.
"You hear about people living their whole lives in darkness and then being able to see again.
"Meeting them again can be quite emotional. It does bring it home. But that is why you are in medicine."