Fish Cataract Patient Recovers Sight

Two world class programs at NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine came together to break new ground in fish medicine, and at the same time return vision to the left eye of River, a sunfish in the collection of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.  River’s right eye was effectively blind as a result of a trauma induced cataract.  The lens of the eye was white and opaque, blocking light from reaching the retina.

Dr. Brian Gilger, a professor of ophthalmology performed the surgery on the 5 year old fish using similar techniques and equipment used in cataract surgeries on mammals.  A phacoemulsifier was used to remove most of the lens, and a few small, very dense remnants were removed manually through a small incision.  fish cataract surgery croppedShown above is Dr. Gilger preparing to perform the surgery on River, who is in the foreground hooked up to his life support and anesthesia machine positioned under the surgical microscope that Dr. Gilger used to perform the surgery.

Throughout the surgery, River was maintained on general anesthetic by members of NCSU’s internationally recognized aquatic medicine team using a type of anesthesia machine developed at NCSU many years ago.  The machine circulates anesthetic laden water past the gills of the fish so that it can breathe throughout surgical procedures and continually receive small doses of anesthetic, much in the manner of a gas anesthesia machine used for people.  Dr. Greg Lewbart, a professor of aquatic medicine, and Dr. Laura Adamovicz, the current intern in the NCSU Exotic Animal Medicine Service provided the anesthesia needed to keep the fish from moving during the delicate microsurgery.  Dr. Dan Dombrowski, veterinarian for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences assisted with the anesthesia and also managed the post surgical care of River.

Dr. Adamovicz was the lead author on a recent publication in the Journal of Fish Diseases describing the technique and the successful outcome of the case.