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Unique Equine Cataract Surgery Offered On Routine Basis

The University of Liverpool is offering a new form of equine cataract removal surgery on a routine basis, which could save the sight of thousands of horses.

Professor Derek Knottenbelt from the University’s Division of Equine Studies and Professor David Wong from the Ophthalmology Research Unit, have developed a unique approach to cataract removal operations combining techniques used on humans and animals. The new surgery is proving consistently successful in restoring complete sight to patients without post-operative symptoms.

Based at the University’s Large Animal Hospital at Leahurst, Professor Knottenbelt and his team are now offering the surgery on a routine basis to horses suffering from cataracts. The team spent several months testing out various surgical techniques used both on humans and animals to establish the best combination of methods to remove horse cataracts.

Georgie is a 15-month-old filly, with cataracts in both eyes. The team is currently preparing to operate on Georgie’s second eye – the first operation was completed without problems. Completely blind from birth, she will undergo further surgery at the University’s Large Animal Hospital. Georgie is owned by the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH).

Cataracts develop because of hereditary, congenital and ageing factors and as a consequence of injury or ophthalmic disease. The latter causes are largely unsuitable for the treatment because previously attempted procedures carried a high complication rate.

To achieve the best results, the surgeons borrowed several techniques regularly used in human cataract removal. The team adapted a human phacoemulsification machine for equine use, which breaks up a cataract through ultrasound. They combined this with a technique commonly used in remote Indian Eye Camps to dislodge the cataract via the anterior eye chamber using a jet of saline. The teams remove the lens using an ultrasound probe and administered an injection of intravitreal steroids to control postoperative inflammation of the eye.

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Professor Knottenbelt said: “This new surgery shows how effectively the latest human cataract surgical techniques can translate successfully to bear on an equine problem. We are pleased that the University can now offer such progressive treatment to tackle equine cataracts on a larger scale than currently available.”

The surgery has successfully been carried out on several horses at the University, including TC, a nine-year old Gelding warmblood, who had developed cataracts in both eyes. TC’s owner, Melina Jones, noticed a problem when TC began walking into objects and developed facial injuries. After consulting her vet, TC was referred to Leahurst where Professor Knottenbelt and Dr Wong carried out two operations to remove the cataracts.

Melina said: “I’m absolutely delighted with the outcome of TC’s surgery. Surgery is quite rarely performed in the UK on horses with cataracts as it carries risks but if I had not agreed to this pioneering operation the only other course of action would have been to have my horse put down.

“As a showjumping horse, it was vital to have TC’s eyesight restored. Without experts such as Professor Knottenbelt, who are willing to push the boundaries of veterinary surgery and try these new techniques, my horse would not be here today.”

Joanna Robotham | alfa
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