In what could help save millions of elderly people from losing their vision, scientists have developed a new X-ray treatment which they say immediately halts the progression of age-related blindness.

Early trials of the new 15-minute procedure showed that it immediately halts further growth of wet age-related macular degeneration (Wet MD), the severe form of the blindness in the elderly.

Wet MD is caused when blood vessels grow over an area in the middle of the retina called the macular, which is at the back of the eye. If not treated, the condition can cause loss of sight in just three months, the Daily Mail reported.

It is currently treated with several drugs, including Lucentis and Avastin, which temporarily stop the vessels from growing.

But the powerful new procedure, called iRay, can destroy the blood vessels completely. Patients sit at the front of a machine and place their chin on a rest while X-rays are beamed into the back of their eye.

Developed by US firm Oraya Therapeutics, the procedure lasts between 15 and 20 minutes and is estimated to cost around 4,000 pounds a time.

The procedure is being tested at Kings College Hospital in London and doctors are hoping to recruit more patients to take part in the trials.

If successful, it could be rolled out in hospitals nationwide and researchers believe it could save the NHS up to 300 million pounds a year.

“This is an exciting new technology that targets one of the most common causes of blindness in the UK,” said Tim Jackson, a ophthalmic surgeon who is leading the trial.

“If the initial results are borne out in these important larger studies then a majority of patients will have something to look forward to — an easily administered, one-off treatment that maintains or improves vision, and fewer injections into their eye,” he said.

AMD is a major cause of visual impairment in people older than 55 years and affects more than 1.75 million in the US alone.

The condition is more common among women, and is thought to be linked to smoking and heavy drinking.