Retinal Implant Helps Blind Man See Again

This story sounds like it is taken out of a science fiction novel but news reports around the world say that Mr. Peter Lane, 51, from Stretford, has his lost sight partially restored using a new device under development by California-based Second Sight Medical Products Inc.The story is that Lane is one of several blind people who are testing the new device known as Argus II Retinal Stimulation System and he is the one who recently found fame in the media having his lost sight partially restored to the extend that he can now read some small words and navigate the outside world with increased ease.

According to Second Sight, the device consists of a small camera and an electrode-studded array implanted on the patient’s retina. This is how it all works.

The camera on the glasses captures an image and sends the information to the video processor, which converts the image to an electronic signal and sends it to the transmitter on the sunglasses. The implanted receiver wirelessly receives this data and sends the signals through a tiny cable to the electrode array, stimulating it to emit electrical pulses. The pulses induce responses in the retina that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to the electrodes stimulated. Patients learn to interpret the visual patterns produced into meaningful images.

The Argus 16 and the next generation Argus II (which has 64 electrodes) are not designed to give sight to those who never had it. Mr. Lane and the others in the clinical trial suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa which means they lost their sight in their later years. This is important because it essentially means that the brain is capable of interpreting the signals received from the eye but the disease has destroyed the retina and the flow of data has seized. Argus replaces the damaged tissue with an electronic one allowing the brain to once again receive the signals necessary to perceive the world.

This is a great breakthrough in the fight against blindness. Statistics show that more than 200,000 people in the USA and Europe suffer from Retinitis Pigmentosa and Argus II can immensely increase quality of life for these people. Some suggest that Second Sight might be able to start selling the device commercially in one year at the cost of nearly $100,000. Sure it is expensive but it is a start. Eventually, when the device is proven to work well and the cost of production decreases it will become much more affordable and available to all who need it.

[For clinical trial information go here.]

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