The main conclusions of the Barcelona conference included the importance of following a balanced diet, which is rich in antioxidants and vitamin A (retinol), avoiding tobacco and alcohol and doing exercise; a set of measures that can help prevent retinal diseases or delay their onset and improve their prognosis, according to the ophthalmologists assembled at the conference.
According to the experts, leading a healthy lifestyle helps prevent systemic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, which are conditions that eventually affect the retina. Consequently, experts stress the need to undergo annual eye examinations after the age of 40 or if major risk factors exist, such as family history, high myopia or chronic diseases of the central nervous system. "Early detection is essential to prevent the development of retinal diseases and improve the final functional prognosis," says Dr. Borja Corcóstegui, the director of IMO and coordinator of the international meeting.
During the conference, the ophthalmologists were able to follow ten operations live, which "showed the great advances that have been made over recent years in retinal surgery, with the perfecting of techniques and the introduction of smaller instruments," indicates Dr. Carlos Mateo, IMO retina specialist and conference coordinator, together with Dr. Corcóstegui. "All of this has led to minimal-incision surgery for improved visual results and faster patient recovery," he explains.
The experts gathered at IMO also analysed the growing importance of intravitreal drugs, which are injected directly into the eye and are providing good results in treating certain retinal diseases. As explained during the conference, since the middle of the last decade, intravitreal injections have become an important alternative to surgery, and its unstoppable development "will constitute a giant leap forward in the treatment of retinal diseases in the next decade," says Dr. Borja Corcóstegui, conference coordinator.
According to the specialist, "the resounding success of these treatments is particularly evident in macular degeneration, whose vision improvement rate has increased from 20% to 75% of cases, due to new medication that is injected into the eye, such as Lucentis and Avastin," which are also used with similar success in patients with diabetic retinopathy.
These two treatments will soon be joined by a third one, which is able to improve the results of current drugs in the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is called VEGF-Trap-Eye, and IMO has been involved in its clinical trials. Its results, presented last March, show that the slow-release anti-VEGF molecule it contains requires fewer intraocular injections to maintain the visual acuity of patients with AMD.
The experts gathered at the meeting also made reference to another slow-release drug called Ozurdex for the treatment of macular oedema secondary to retinal vein obstruction, whose use has just been approved in Europe. It is an injectable and biodegradable long-acting corticosteroid implant (dexamethasone), which has become the first licensed treatment in Europe for macular oedema in patients with retinal vein occlusion (RVO), a significant and common cause of vision loss.
According to the conference coordinator, "pharmacological treatments have made it possible, in the past five years, to reduce the number of retinal operations by 50%." Specialists predict that this percentage will drop even further in the coming years, due to the introduction of new genetic therapies that have made significant advances in certain diseases, such as Stargardt disease and diabetic retinopathy.
At the same time, several specialists in different countries are working on the development of a microchip that electrically stimulates the retina in blind patients. The technique involves attaching a small camera to a pair of glasses, which is connected to a mini-processor that sends signals to a microchip located in the eye to stimulate the retina. In Spain, Dr. Borja Corcóstegui has spent several years studying this implantation technique with nine completely blind patients, who could soon regain some of their sight. As he explained, "the microchip could be implanted in the coming months, after twenty years of research."