Research ArticleCataract Surgery

Femtosecond Laser–Assisted Cataract Surgery with Integrated Optical Coherence Tomography

Science Translational Medicine  17 Nov 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 58, pp. 58ra85
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001305

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The Power of Light

As Star Wars fans know, a lightsaber fares better against the Dark Force than does a metal sword. Ophthalmologists, who battle the darkening forces of eye disease, have also learned this lesson, replacing steel scalpels with lasers for creating precise, controlled incisions in the eye. Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis—commonly known as LASIK surgery—corrects myopia (nearsightedness) and other refractive errors in millions of people each year. Now, Palanker et al. used this approach to devise a more precise, reproducible and automated way to remove cataracts. The authors combine the precise cuts of a laser with the imaging sophistication of optical coherence tomography, a method that uses interference of coherent light scattered by biological tissues to create three-dimensional images of their internal structure. On the basis of the individual patient’s eye anatomy, the laser system calculates the optimal set of cutting patterns for cataract removal and directs the laser to execute these slices, resulting in fast, clean surgery.

Two light-based methods made this surgical advance possible. The first, the femtosecond laser, is ideal for use deep inside a fragile eye. Unlike longer pulse lasers, which melt and boil their targets away, producing significant collateral damage to adjacent structures, femtosecond light pulses can turn the material in the focal spot into ionized plasma, allowing dissection of transparent tissues without heat accumulation and minimal disturbance to the surroundings. The resulting cut is smooth and precise. The second method—optical coherence tomography (OCT)—takes advantage of slight variations in the refractive properties of living tissues. Coherent light scattered by structures within the eye allows reconstruction of a 3D image of the live tissue. Palanker et al.’s instrument uses this imaging technique to map the cornea, iris and crystalline lens within the patient’s eye and precisely position the various laser cuts. The laser makes a circular opening in the lens capsule (the membrane that surrounds the lens itself), sections the opaque lens into small pieces that are easily removed, and carves a partial incision in the cornea for later completion of surgery and insertion of the artificial lens under sterile conditions. The laser-created edges in the lens capsule are stronger than those made manually, so they better resist damage when the opaque lens is removed or the new lens is implanted. All the laser cuts are produced without perforating the cornea, so that the procedure can be performed outside the operating room. The laser can also be used to cut the corneal surface for correction of astigmatism and for creating a port for surgical instruments in the operating room.

Although the new instrument plans and performs incisions much more accurately than do currently available tools, a surgeon still must remove the lens manually. The benefits of the more precise surgical incisions on visual acuity in patients with various types of intraocular lenses will need to be ascertained in a larger prospective trial, although the preliminary data in the paper are promising and indicate that the laser procedure is safe for ocular tissues. This new instrument will arm surgeons with a precise and automated lightsaber with which to battle the darkening forces of cataracts.


  • Citation: D. V. Palanker, M. S. Blumenkranz, D. Andersen, M. Wiltberger, G. Marcellino, P. Gooding, D. Angeley, G. Schuele, B. Woodley, M. Simoneau, N. J. Friedman, B. Seibel, J. Batlle, R. Feliz, J. Talamo, W. Culbertson, Femtosecond Laser–Assisted Cataract Surgery with Integrated Optical Coherence Tomography. Sci. Transl. Med. 2, 58ra85 (2010).