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The Artificial Retina Project Helps to Restore Sight

A new three-year research study called the “Artificial Retina Project,” is being conducted in the United States, Mexico and Europe. This project is studying the effects of surgically implanted electrodes to help individuals with blindness and other visual impairments to detect important visual cues. In addition to the electrodes, participants also have a camera on the bridge of their noses and a video processor strapped to their waists. Participants choose when to use the device by turning their camera on.

With the artificial retina, a sheet of electrodes is implanted in the eye. The person wears glasses with a tiny camera, which captures images that the belt-pack video processor translates into patterns of light and dark, like the “pixelized image we see on a stadium scoreboard,” said Jessy D. Dorn, a research scientist at Second Sight Medical Products, which produces the device, collaborating with the Department of Energy. The video processor directs each electrode to transmit signals representing an object’s contours, brightness and contrast, which pulse along optic neurons into the brain. Other research teams are developing similar devices.

Brian Mech, Second Sight’s vice president for business development, said the company was seeking federal approval to market the 60-electrode version, which would cost up to $100,000 and might be covered by insurance. Also planned are 200- and 1,000-electrode versions; the higher number might provide enough resolution for reading.

Among the 38 participants so far, some have been able to differentiate plates from cups, tell grass from sidewalk, sort white socks from dark, distinguish doors and windows, identify large letters of the alphabet, and see where people are. Linda Morfoot, 65, of Long Beach, Calif., blind for 12 years, says she can now toss a ball into a basketball hoop, follow her nine grandchildren as they run around her living room and “see where the preacher is” in church.

Kathy Blake, 58, of Fountain Valley, Calif., said she mainly wanted to help advance research. But she uses it to sort laundry, notice cars and people, and on the Fourth of July, to “see all the fireworks,” she said.

More than 3.3 million Americans 40 and over, or about one in 28, are blind or have vision so poor that even with glasses, medicine or surgery, everyday tasks are difficult, according to the National Eye Institute, a federal agency. That number is expected to double in the next 30 years. Worldwide, about 160 million people are similarly affected.

For more information on the Artificial Retina Project and the full article, click here: Burst of Technology Helps Blind to See

 

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