Injection rids need for glaucoma eye drops

The treatment under trial now involves painlessly injecting a 1mm pellet, via a pen-like device, into a patient's eyeball. The injection takes around 10 seconds, is painless and does not damage the eyeball.
The treatment under trial now involves painlessly injecting a 1mm pellet, via a pen-like device, into a patient's eyeball. The injection takes around 10 seconds, is painless and does not damage the eyeball.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

A 1mm pellet, which releases medicine over several months, is injected into the eyeball

For more than 10 years, Madam Sham has had to apply eye drops every day to maintain her vision.

The 60-year-old senior customer service officer suffers from glaucoma, a chronic condition that causes pressure to build up in the eye and damage the optic nerve. It is most widely treated with medicated eye drops, usually applied for life.

However, since taking part in a new trial treatment last December, Madam Sham, who gave only her surname, has been spared the hassle of applying the eye drops.

The treatment involves painlessly injecting a 1mm pellet, via a pen-like device, into a patient's eyeball. The pellet releases medicine during the minimum of four months that it takes to dissolve.

The injection takes around 10 seconds and does not damage the eyeball, said researchers from the Singapore National Eye Centre and the Singapore Eye Research Institute (Seri) who are involved in the two-year international trial.

But patients have to go back after four months to check if the eye pressure has gone up and the pellet has dissolved before the next injection.

Based on the trial of five patients here and 95 others worldwide, the eye can feel irritated for the first few days after the injection and infection is a small risk.

The injection can solve issues linked to putting eye drops in the long run, such as forgetting to put the drops and side effects such as itchy or red eyes, said Professor Aung Tin, the principal investigator and Seri executive director.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness globally. In Singapore, about 3 per cent of people over age 50 have glaucoma, and this is 10 to 12 per cent for those over 70. As many as six in 10 glaucoma patients here and worldwide do not stick to using eye drops.

The injection can work for most glaucoma patients, except for those with closed-angle glaucoma.

Patients now pay around $30 to $50 for a bottle of eye drops, which can last for a month. Researchers said the cost of the new treatment has yet to be finalised. The study is now recruiting patients here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Injection rids need for glaucoma eye drops'. Print Edition | Subscribe