Since Galileo unveiled his famous telescope in 1609, technology has come a long way.
Telescopes have been improved over hundreds of years to help scientists and astromoners explore the depths of the universe. In 1990, the Hubble telescope was sent into the earthâ??s orbit to record the universe in detail that nobody in the 17th Century could even have dreamed of.
However, the next advance in telescope technology is taking place a little bit closer to home.
Galileo went blind in his old age, some say as a result of looking at the sun through the telescope, although this is actually a myth. So it is perhaps fitting that the next application of telescopic technology will be to restore sight. More specifically, for people who have lost it due to an eye condition called Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).
Around 39 million people around the globe suffer from blindness, and macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of this. Itâ??s estimated to affect 20-25 million people around the world. In North America Â around 11 million are affected by this condition, which is expected to more than double by 2050.
There are two types of macular degeneration â?? dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration accounts for around 90% of people diagnosed as having the condition, although the wet type is more severe and more likely to lead to what is legally classified as blindness.
Macular degeneration is an issue which primarily effects people over 50, and the risk of the condition increases with age. This makes blindess a significant concern as people grow older.
For many people suffering blindness due to the dry-type macular degeneration, there is now light at the end of the tunnel (literally).
A telescope about the same size of a pea has been invented, and successfully implanted into the eye of a patient who had end-stage macular degeneration, the most advanced stage of the dry type. Virginia Bane, the 89-year-old patient who received the implant said â??I can see better than ever nowâ? and that â??colors are more vibrant, beautiful and naturalâ?.
The tiny telescope contains two mirrors, which magnify images and project them onto the undamaged part of the retina, allowing them to see.
The macular is part of the retina, and is what provides us with central vision. Two miniature mirrors within the telescope work together to bypass the damaged macular, and project light onto the undamaged part of the retina. As the undamaged part of the retina is still sensitive to light, it can send these signals to the brain to allow the person to see.
Unfortunately, the wet type of AMD cannot be treated by the telescope, as vessels at the back of the eye leak blood.
Whether itâ??s allowing us to see stars and galaxies from billions of years ago, or restoring sight to those who no longer have it, the various ways in which telescopes have been used over the past 400 years is extraordinary. While this technology is currently only available in North America, it is likely to be only a matter of time before it is used more widely.
This guest post was provided by Jon Davies, who works for Lenstore, an online retailer of contact lenses in the United Kingdom. He enjoys science and technology, and writing about how technology has been developed over the centuries.