By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
A laser treatment developed by Stroma Medical's Dr. Gregg Homer takes only 20 seconds to perform but can turn brown eyes into blue ones permanently.
Experts warn however that the procedure can take away sight altogether. Brown eye pigment helps to prevent problems such as glare and double vision. Removing it could leave the eye with no way to control the light getting in.
Homer explained that the laser only affects pigment on the eye's surface and that the frequencies used are absorbed by the dark pigment on the iris, so there is no danger of eye damage. After testing on cadavers, he has moved his operation to Mexico, where he says there has been no evidence of injury thus far. His seventeen short-sighted patients have been offered lens transplants in return for taking part in the procedure.
The key to the procedure is a specially tuned laser that destroys the natural brown pigment melanin in the iris, the eye's central colored portion. The laser treatment takes about 20 seconds, with the color change occurring gradually over the next two to three weeks.
Dr. Elmer Tu, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a spokesman for the American College of Ophthalmology, told CBS News. “Theoretically, it's possible if you go in and laser the eye to release the pigment that causes brown eyes,” he said. But Dr. Tu said safety could be an issue. The released pigment “has to go somewhere,” he said, adding that a potentially blinding condition called pigmentary glaucoma is known to be associated with the chronic seepage of melanin into the fluid within the eye.
“Nineteen million people wear colored contact lenses, but light-colored contacts on dark eyes look unnatural and the wearer can't see as well,” Doug Daniels, Stroma Medical's CEO, told msnbc.com. And as Dr. Tu said, contact lenses carry risks as well, including the possibility of serious infections. A survey by Stroma Medical suggests that 17 percent of Americans would want the treatment, if they knew it was completely safe.
But blue eyes will cost plenty of green. According to KTLA, the procedure is expected to run about $5,000.