By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A breakthrough new treatment for the eye disease macular degeneration has just received FDA approval — and it was tested in Philadelphia at Wills Eye Hospital. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for older people.

This is the first alternative to injections in 15 years

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Sixty-two-year-old Melinda Roth says her life has improved dramatically with the help of an implant in her eye that’s the size of a grain of rice.

“Science is a miracle,” Roth said.

Roth has age-related macular degeneration, commonly referred to as Wet MD. That’s when abnormal blood vessels grow into the retina, obscuring central vision and eventually causing blindness.

Until now the treatment has been a medication that has to be injected into the eye monthly.

“Nobody wants to see somebody coming at their eyeball with a needle,” Roth said.

Now, instead of those injections, the medication can be automatically delivered with a device that’s surgically implanted in the eye.

“The device will slowly release the drug over many months,” Dr. Carl Regillo, with Wills Eye Hospital, said.

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Dr. Regillo led the research on the Susvimo Implant, which was just approved by the FDA.

“It’s a huge deal,” Dr. Regillo said. “It’s not an understatement to say it’s a major advance and the first major change in the way we manage Wet MD.”

For Roth, who was part of the clinical trial, it means no more monthly trips to the doctor for shots.

“It was a game-changer,” Roth said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The medication in the device helps to control MD and prevent further vision loss.

“What this represents is a whole new treatment paradigm,” Dr. Regillo said.

Roth is no longer dreading those monthly injections and was happy to be part of the trial.

“Never give up, there’s always something around the corner being invented,” Roth said.

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Roth was one of 415 patients who tested the new device. It costs $9,000 but is expected to be covered by some insurance plans.

Stephanie Stahl