Sydney ophthalmologist eyes off new ways to save sight

SBS World News Radio: Professor Chandra Bala’s scientific breakthroughs are gaining international attention and benefiting patients.

When a routine operation took an unexpected turn, Queensland man Joseph Borg was left blinded in one eye.

A bad bleed had spread to cover his left eye.

He says it made him realise how much he relied on his ability to see.

“You take things for granted but, with losing the sight, it’s amazing how much confidence you lose, the balance. But now I’m getting it all back together and, yeah, I’m really grateful.”

He was referred to Sydney eye surgeon Professor Chandra Bala late last year, who offered him a possible fix – non-invasive eye drops.

But, as Joseph Borg recalls, there was a catch because they had never been tried before.

“He kind of said, he couldn’t 100% guarantee it of course, but he said he thinks he’s a good chance of it clearing and he said he couldn’t see any side effects from it that would damage the eye or anything.”

Joseph took the chance and agreed to try the eyedrops.

Eight months later he says he noticed a significant difference.

“It cleared, cleared the eye completely. The stain, to look at it, it’s the same.”

Professor Bala is a leader in eye innovation, trialing and finding new ways to treat eye conditions.

The Sydney ophthalmologist has been recognised for his pioneering the use of laser, instead of scissors, to cut and remove artificial lens in cataract patients.

The laser technique is the first of its kind in the world.

Professor Bala says it makes an otherwise complex procedure simple.

“The scissors are difficult to open inside the eye, so it becomes a bit more challenging and it can take longer. Because it takes longer, the other structures in the eye suffer. We use the laser to cut it, takes 30 seconds to cut, and then you can take it out.”

Professor Bala migrated from India with his family in the late 1980s and draws on an old Tamil saying to explain why he’s driven to try new techniques.

“What you know is only the amount of mud you hold in your hand, the rest of the world you do not know. So whilst we would like to give the reassurance that we know everything, it is nowhere near finished. And that’s what makes it exciting, because the possibilities are endless.”

As technology gets cheaper and safety improves, Professor Bala hopes the progress he makes today will one-day help those in developing countries.

For now, he says his clinic donates second-hand glasses to vision-impaired people in the Solomon Islands.

“There are nurses there that are trained by us, they are trained to give out glasses. On average close to around 10,000 glasses are provided by us each year.”

With seven trials currently under way, four centred around the use of laser, Professor Chandra Bala may be on the brink of his next medical breakthrough.

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