The evolution of Laser Eye Surgery

Performing a surgery on our eyes using a laser is quick, virtually painless and the results are so good it is said that over 95% of short sight patients achieve 20/20 vision or better after treatment. The rapid development of the laser technology used in eye surgery has led to near perfect results for Lasik operations. The first LASIK operation was performed in 1995 with laser eye technology which is far from the advanced systems we see in a laser eye surgery clinic today.

Pioneering laser technology

In 1981 three researchers at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in New York, namely Samuel Blum, Rangaswamy Srinivasan and James J. Wynne had been experimenting with a new laser. The laser they were using was an ‘excimer’ laser and used gases which when electrically energized emitted ultraviolet light. The key feature of this laser is its cool beam technology which scientists believed is suitable for reshaping the cornea due its ability to remove tissue without thermal damage. The initial application of this laser was used to correct shortsight but soon realized that the excimer energy can be better used to flatten the cornea across its surface, which changes its curvature without actual cuts.

Modern laser eye technology

In the early 90s, the laser used in eye surgery used rough broad-beams which cannot achieve the smooth reshaping that modern laser eye technology can achieve. Current sophisticated ‘flying spot’ excimer lasers can emit hundreds of pulses every second which has transformed LASIK results to a point such that almost all shortsighted patients can claim 20/20 vision after laser eye surgery. State-of-the-art laser technology now uses two lasers to perform laser eye correction procedure. A femtosecond laser, which is a laser which emits optical pulses within a duration well below one billionth of a second, to create a corneal flap. The hinged flap is then folded to a side and a second excimer laser is used to reshape the corneal curvature. The excimer laser is ideal since it can gently remove corneal tissue without heat and it is so precise it can remove one quarter of a micro which is a millionth of a metre. The founding scientists showed off about its accuracy by publishing an amazing picture of an etch they carried out on a single human hair which is viewable only through an electron microscope. Laser eye clinics around the world are indebted to the early pioneers in the field of laser systems, which have led to the advanced laser eye technology used today that achieve near perfect results.