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Restoring Sight To Millions
Millions of Americans who no longer need glasses following laser eye surgery can thank innovators like Dr. Stephen Trokel. Dr. Trokel’s vision for use of advanced medical technology in the field of ophthalmology has resulted in millions of patients who can now see clearly. Trained in engineering and physics, he pursued a medical degree in ophthalmology and, as a clinical and research professor of ophthalmology at Columbia University, began investigating the new field of laser eye surgery.
Dr. Trokel’s study of prior laser surgery techniques led him to research the effect of the excimer laser, invented in the early 1970s and able to perform very delicate surgeries, on the human cornea. Dr. Trokel began in 1982 to collaborate with several colleagues working with IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center on the potential of the excimer laser for use in surgery on human tissue. Through continued testing, they found that laser surgery could be effective in treating nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism (blurred vision at a distance or near). As they became convinced that the technology could be safely used in humans, the team worked to develop the technology for commercial use.
The first prototype of an excimer laser specifically for eye surgery was produced in 1985; Dr. Trokel performed the first laser surgery on a patient’s eye in 1987. The technology was perfected over the next decade, leading to FDA approval of the excimer laser for ophthalmologic refractive use in 1996. Since receiving FDA approval, the excimer laser has been safely and effectively used in more than 6 million procedures. It has been refined and improved, leading to developments such as LASIK surgery. LASIK technology has since progressed and is now able to safely treat certain severe refractive conditions.