The Santa Fe Eye Protocol – An Experimental Treatment to Reverse the Vision Loss of Macular Degeneration
The importance of the Santa Fe Eye Protocol is its ability not only to slow, but in most cases to reverse, the vision loss associated with both Wet and Dry AMD. The Santa Fe Eye Protocol has three components.
The first aspect of the Santa Fe Eye Protocol is Auricular Therapy. Pioneered by French neurologist Dr. Paul Nogier, he demonstrated that stimulating specific points on the ear would stimulate corresponding parts of the body. This theory has been further validated by Dr. David Alimi, Professor of Neurology and Ear Acupuncture at the University of Paris Medical School. Using functional MRI, Dr. Alami showed that when one stimulates the part of the ear said by Dr. Nogier to represent the thumb, then that part of the brain known to represent the thumb lit up under fMRI. Auricular Therapy is used in the Santa Fe Eye Protocol to stimulate the optic nerve, the retina itself, the production of cortisone and also to increase the blood flow to the retina.
The second component uses Canadian Neuroanatomic concepts developed by Dr. Joseph Wong of Toronto. Very thin needle electrodes are placed in the fat surrounding the eyeball and stimulated with a mild electric current. Starting with the point where anesthesiologists inject anesthesia, needle-electrodes are inserted at four quadrants around the eye to electrically stimulate the retina. This probably increases blood flow, but may also enhance the function of the Retinal Pigment Epithelium by removing waste products, increase photoreceptor sensitivity or possibly affect other structures impacting upon the eye.
The third part of the treatment is to stimulate partitions of the scalp directly overlying the visual cortex of the brain. This has the effect of “undoing” the effects of mini-strokes that were not otherwise detected. Recently, this component was modified to include stimulation over parts of the brain to encourage neuroplastic changes to improve vision.
Treatment and Results
Despite the grim outlook for treating Wet or Dry AMD, hope lies in the Santa Fe Eye Protocol. Although the Protocol is still experimental, Dr. Lundgren has performed over 7,000 treatments on over 1,100 individual patients. Currently, more than 85% of patients with either the wet or dry types of AMD experience improved vision.
In most cases, two to four treatments yield one line of improvement on a National Eye Institute visual acuity chart. These charts have 5 letters on each line. The lines are logarithmically spaced such that three lines lower on the chart represents doubling visual acuity. The rate of improvement for people treated with the Santa Fe Eye Protocol typically is 1 – 2 1/2 letters per treatment. The rate of improvement for people treated with the Santa Fe Eye Protocol averages 1 1/4 letters per treatment with some patients benefiting 3 1/2 letters or more.
If a patient has very poor vision, he or she will often notice benefits quickly. If initial starting vision is fairly good, it typically takes 2 lines improvement on eye charts before patients recognize they are seeing better. This likely is because eye care professionals continue to say that AMD continues to progress without hope and patients do not want to have false expectations.
Some persons recently diagnosed with AMD have decided to be “pro-active” and head off symptoms before they start. Obviously Dr. Lundgren cannot offer his warranty on those persons who have not yet lost any vision, but he was pleasantly surprised that many of them did have vision improvements to better than 20/20 — some to 20/10.
The major contraindication is bleeding or leaking in the retina, since the probable mechanism of the Santa Fe Eye Protocol is increasing blood supply – hence oxygen – to the photoreceptors in the retina. We certainly do not want to make a small leak into a large one. To meet ophthalmologic guidelines, we require that if you have wet (neovascular) AMD, that you have a retinal exam to rule out any current retinal hemorrhage within 3 months of treatment. If you have dry AMD, the guideline is a retinal exam indicating no leak within 12 months of treatment. That is because approximately 5% of people with dry AMD convert to wet every year. Of course, if you have a major vision loss, it is important that you have another retinal exam before being treated.
A 2nd absolute contraindication is having a seizure disorder. There is concern that electric stimulation of the brain could trigger more seizures.
Another contraindication is dementia. People with dementia do not respond as rapidly as others. Also, if the patient cannot remember what vision was like last week, she/he is unlikely to recognize that they are getting better under the Santa Fe Eye Protocol.
Many people on blood thinners have been treated without problem. Persons with artificial cardiac pacemakers or artificial joints can be treated without difficulty.
Cost & Warranty
The global charge is $250 per treatment (either both eyes or a single eye if one is still leaking), which has not been increased since October 2008. Medicare does not cover the treatments, considering them “experimental”. Dr. Lundgren is so confident in the results of this protocol that all charges will be refunded if after four treatments there is not objective improvement in visual acuity. As measured on National Eye Institute ETDRS charts, one eye must test at least one line better in either near or distant vision. Most patients show much greater improvement.
Updated: 1 August 2011