Efforts to correct short sight by reshaping the cornea using laser surgery have received a boost at Imperial College, London, where a new infra-red laser has been developed which is more compact and cheaper to use than anything produced to date.
The brainchild of Chris Phillips, senior lecturer in physics, and Russian physicist Kostya Vodopyanov, the laser has cost Pounds 300,000 and taken five years to create. It is expected to be developed commercially by a United States company.
The Russians have been experimenting with eye surgery for impaired vision since the 1970s. The aim has been to find equipment which is highly accurate and does not cause too much damage.
"You need a wave length where the laser radiation is absorbed at a very thin depth in the tissue," says Dr Phillips. So thin is the absorption of his laser by the corneal tissue that, if you put your hand in front of it, it will burn a little hole in your hand, but you will not be able to feel the hole.
Asked why the innovation had not gone to a British company, David Thomas, pro-rector of research contracts at Imperial College, said: "There's no UK company that is in this sort of laser business. It's a pity, but there it is."