Surgeons reversed Joan Gill's end-stage macular degeneration using a tiny telescope smaller than the size of a pea.
Surgeons reversed Joan Gill's end-stage macular degeneration using a tiny telescope smaller than a pea.Reuters

Surgeons have restored the sight of an 87-year-old British woman blinded by end-stage macular degeneration using a telescope smaller than a pea.

The telescope was implanted into one of Joan Gill's eyes during an hour-long operation to treat the condition, which has never before been reversed in Britain.

The device, which was designed by US-based healthcare company Optegra, magnifies the central area of any object being viewed and projects the image on to one of the remaining areas of the retina that have not been affected by the condition.

Gill said the procedure had restored her ability to see faces and everyday objects such as telephone keypads and playing cards.

"I can recognise my own daughters when they come to the door before they have spoken," she told the Sunday Times. "Beforehand, I couldn't do that and it was upsetting for everybody.

"I can now even make out six extra lines of letters on the eye chart," she added.

Brendan Moriarty, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Optegra's Manchester Eye Hospital, said Gill is the first British patient to benefit from the operation.

The treatment does not restore full vision and is not available on the NHS. A private operation costs almost £20,000.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world and affects around 500,000 people in Britain.

There are two forms of the condition, "wet" and "dry", and both involve damage to the macula, an area of the retina about the size of a grain of rice, which enables people to perceive detail and colour.

Smoking, high-blood pressure, sun exposure and a genetic predisposition all increase the risk of developing the condition.