The History of Lens Implants

Implanting a tiny plastic lens inside the eye is the standard procedure for correcting cataracts and is also used for correcting the vision in people who are nearsighted, farsighted, and have astigmatism. How did the idea of using a plastic lens implant get started ?

In World War II, some British fighter pilots were wounded in their eyes by plastic fragments from their airplane canopy. Harold Ridley, one of the eye surgeons who treated them, and continued to care for them after the war, recognized that this plastic material that remained in the eye was not rejected by the body as a ‘foreign object’. It was just serendipity that the material was a medically pure grade of plastic, and perfectly suited for use as a lens that could be implanted inside the eye.

Ridley performed the first lens implant surgery on November 29, 1949. This radical idea of putting a lens inside the eye was not completely accepted by the ophthalmology profession until 25 years later. Today, lens implant surgery is the most common operation done. Not just the most common eye operation, but the most common operation done in the United States and in the world. Ridley lived to see his truly visionary idea vindicated. He received many international awards and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. (The actor Sean Connery was knighted at the same ceremony.)

At Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center, we have been using lens implants since 1972 – the first in Arizona. We do over 10,000 lens implant procedures each year, making us one of the leading eye surgery centers in the United States.

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