Monday, February 13, 2012

Retinal Implant Brings Eyesight To The Blind

Forbes - About 200,000 people in the United States and Europe suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that causes the slow degradation of eyesight starting from a young age, and often leads to blindness. The problem is that the genes in the eye are “programmed” to produce the wrong number of proteins that are needed for the cells. Over time, this causes the rods and cones in the eye end up dying, which is what leads to diminished and then lost eyesight.

Right now, there are no approved treatments to either restore eyesight or even slow the progression of the disease, but that may soon change as teams of researchers and companies are working on curing the condition.

One of those companies, Retinal Implant, AG, has developed a new retinal implant that partially restores vision to people who’ve lost their sight to retinitis pigmentosa. A first round of human clinical trials began in 2005 and concluded in 2010. That trial showed extraordinary promise, and the results were published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B in November of 2010. The results showed that patients who received the implant had their eyesight partially restored to the point where they could distinguish objects and shapes and even read.

The implant itself is a small electronic chip, only 9 square mm, that’s implanted directly beneath the retina. The chip contains about 1500 electrodes and are powered inductively by transmitter coils placed under the skin. When light coming into the eye hits the electrodes, the chip converts the light into electricity, which then stimulates nerves in the retina. The stimulation is then perceived by the brain as sight. This differs from other implant technologies, which rely on cameras to capture and interpret the images.          More