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Glaucoma can cause blindness when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye, exerting pressure on the optic nerve. Lowering intraocular pressure (IOP) to within normal ranges is critical to preserving vision.

Relieving IOP in patients with glaucoma often requires a trabeculectomy — a surgical operation to lower IOP — or a tube shunt — a flexible drainage device implanted in the eye.

Our researchers have developed an effective alternative: a stent no wider than a human hair and consisting of collagen-derived gelatin. The implantable device — known as the XEN® Glaucoma Treatment System — has been approved for clinical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The XEN gel stent is a turning point in treatment, especially for patients for whom surgery has failed to reduce their IOP. It also will benefit patients with primary open-angle glaucoma and other forms of glaucoma that prove unresponsive to the maximum tolerable medical therapy.

SCEI Director Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, led one of the pivotal clinical trials leading to the FDA approval of the device, which is marketed by the pharmaceutical company Allergan. In his findings one year after the implant, Varma found eye pressure in his patients was reduced 44 percent and IPO medications were down 65 percent.

"In our quest to prevent blindness and provide less invasive and more effective treatments, the XEN implantable device creates a new horizon for glaucoma patients," Varma said.

The device can be safely injected into the eye to allow the anterior chamber to continue circulating and draining fluid in the inner eye. Implantation takes a matter of minutes.