The development of the cataract operation and invention of the intraocular lenses.
During World War II, Ridley treated Royal Air Force casualties with serious eye injuries amongst whom was Squadron Leader Gordon “Mouse” Cleaver of 601 Squadron whose sight had been severely damaged when splinters of acrylic plastic from his Spitfire canopy had lodged in both his eyes. Ridley observed, that unusually, the plastic splinters were not rejected by Cleaver’s immune system.
This observation led Ridley to design an artificial or, intraocular (IoL) lens in the cure of cataract blindness. He had a lens manufactured by a British optical company, Raymers Ltd using a medical grade of the same material made by ICI and he performed the first IoL surgery on the 29th November 1949 at St Thomas’ Hospital. In 1952 the first IOL surgery to be performed in the United States was carried out at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
Ridley pioneered IoL surgery in the face of prolonged and severe criticism from the British medical Establishment whose long-established maxim was: ‘always remove foreign objects from the eye’. With many of his international supporters, especially Peter Choyce, Ridley improved the surgical procedure that today has become a highly sophisticated surgical operation that takes 10-20 minutes to perform and which is recognised worldwide as being the modern cure for cataract blindness.