The contraption pictured above may look like a spacecraft -- but it's as small as a ladybug, and meant to go in the eye. The Implantable Miniature Telescope is designed to help people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is a painless eye disease marked by the gradual deterioration of nerve cells in the center of the retina. As the disease progresses, it becomes difficult for a patient to see straight ahead, read, drive or watch television. Peripheral vision often remains unaffected.

The device, 4.4 millimeters long and implanted by a surgeon, functions like the telephoto lens of a camera, enlarging an image threefold while projecting it onto undamaged parts of the retina. "It is not a cure for AMD," said Howard Cupples, professor emeritus of ophthalmology at Georgetown University Medical School, but an "optical aid."

A study partially funded by the manufacturer, VisionCare Inc. of Saratoga, Calif., and published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, showed the device was effective in more than 90 percent of participants and safe. Post-surgical inflammation was the only adverse reaction reported, and it was resolved with steroid treatment. Tests are continuing. Final results and approval by the Food and Drug Administration are expected in early 2006.

-- Ranit Mishori