This is Ben, and he is a living example of progress made in the field of vision research. Little Ben suffers from a visual disorder called strabismus, and faced growing up “cross-eyed” in a world that would have appeared blurred. Now, thanks to years of research and development, a simple corrective surgery exists that will allow Ben to experience a normal childhood.
Strabismus highlights advances in vision research because it is such a common condition, affecting approximately 4% of Americans. The disorder can be caused by a lack of coordination of the eye muscles, or from neurological damage in a brain area that controls eye movements. Surgical treatment involves shortening, lengthening, or changing the position of one or more of the eye muscles, and depending on the reason for the misalignment, strong eyeglasses may also improve the condition. Famous individuals with strabismus include Abraham Lincoln, Barbara Streisand, Forest Whittaker, and the existential philosopher, Sartre, who probably found the fact that his eyes were misaligned hopelessly meaningless.
Research provides important breakthroughs often when they are least expected, and the story behind developing a treatment for strabismus is a classic example. Beginning in the late 1960’s, a San Francisco ophthalmologist named Alan Scott began exploring ways to align the eyes of strabismic patients. Dr. Scott experimented with a variety of chemical procedures in an effort to partially paralyze the necessary eye muscle in order realign the eyes.
In 1973, Dr. Scott identified a particularly effective neurotoxic chemical called botulinum toxin type A (BTX-A), and by 1980, he was finding success using BTX-A to treat patients with strabismus. As it turns out, BTX-A, or BOTOX, is a temporary paralyzing agent, effective for only four to six months. Requiring patients to return for treatment two or three times a year presented many clinical obstacles and over time doctors focused on refining surgical rather than chemical procedures to correct strabismus. The value of a research discovery may be unapparent at the time it is made, as with the case of BOTOX and strabismus, a scientist may not know what they're going to get. While Dr. Scott’s discovery of BOTOX was only one link in a chain of research discoveries that today allow doctors to easily correct misaligned eyes, nearly all of Hollywood is grateful for his contributions.