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The amazing World War II discovery that led to modern cataract surgery

29/08/2017

While war has a dreadful impact on lives, it does occasionally introduce new technology that can improve lives too.

During the Second World War, Sir Harold Ridley, while operating on wounded pilots in St Thomas’ Hospital, made an important discovery. He noticed that when the acrylic plastic splinters from aircraft canopies lodged in in the eyes of wounded pilots, they didn’t cause a rejection as he expected.

This led to Ridley to experiment with the use of artificial lenses in the eye to correct the vision of cataract sufferers.

In 1949, he commissioned the manufacturer of the Perspex acrylic plastic material, ICI, to produce the first intraocular lens and, in 1950, he implanted the first artificial lens permanently in an eye. From there, he committed himself to a comprehensive development program which eventually won worldwide acceptance, receiving FDA approval in the USA in 1981.So, the tragic injuries of unfortunate pilots during the war directly led to the invention of the intraocular lens. In fact, the brilliant early work by Sir Harold Ridley has since gone on to improve the lives of millions of ordinary people. Today, cataract surgery, using the implantation of intraocular lens, is the most common form of surgery in the world.

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