LASIK Surgery: From Its Invention To Modern Usage

Innovation in vision correction started much longer ago than one might expect. The first eye glasses originated in Italy during the 13th century, while the first contact lenses, which were made out of hand-blown glass, appeared in Switzerland in 1888.

But neither of those inventions offered a permanent solution to imperfect vision. That didn’t come until the excimer laser was invented in the 1970s. When Stephen L. Trokel, a Columbia University researcher, heard of this laser technology, he borrowed it to perform the first laser vision correction using animal cadavers, then human cadavers, and eventually working his way up to performing the surgery on living monkey and rabbit corneas.

Inaugural Laser Vision Correction

Marguerite McDonald, a colleage of Trokel’s, performed the first live human photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) in 1988. This was done on a 60-year-old woman whose eye was scheduled to be removed due to a growing black spot on her eye caused by malignant melanoma. The woman offered scientists the chance to experiment on her eye before it was removed, and so the PRK procedure was performed.

Later that year Canada approved the excimer laser to be used in PRK, and the United States approved it in 1995.

In Europe, two eye doctors—Ioannis Pillakaris from Greece and Lucio Burrato from Italy—developed two types of surgery known then as “flap and zap.” They used a blade to cut a thin flap into the cornea, and “zap” the underlying tissue with a laser, then use the flap as a natural bandage.

This flap caused less discomfort than just working on top of the corneal surface, and allowed for faster recovery time. This procedure became known as LASIK eye surgery, which was approved in the United States in 1999. Learn more about this at

Improving Laser Vision Correction

Scientists developed a wavefront analysis in 1999 that could map a patient’s prescription. This map, known as a corneal map, is as unique to each patient as a fingerprint.

The data from the wavefront analysis could be programmed into the excimer laser, allowing the laser to do a more precise job of reshaping the patient’s cornea, offering a fully customized procedure with even better results.

The use of wavefront analysis data was granted FDA approval in 2002, just in time for LASIK to become the most common elective procedure in the world.

That same year, 100 percent bladeless laser eye surgery was invented. Instead of using a blade to create the corneal flap, a femtosecond laser is used, which can create an incision of the precise depth and diameter that the surgeon desires.

LASIK is proven safe and effective, whether done bladed or bladeless, and provides patients with important advantages, including very little pain, almost immediate vision correction, quick recovery with no bandages or stitches, and the potential of no longer needing corrective eyewear.

As with any procedure, there are some risks as well as possible side effects, LASIK offers a permanent vision correction solution for many people with vision problems who find wearing glasses or contacts to be a nuisance.

Vision correction has come a long way, from monocles and spectacles to high tech LASIK procedures. One can only wonder what future vision correction may have in store.

Ruth Nelson