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Nov 04
2010

German retinal breakthrough helps blind people see again

Posted by: jessisthebest in Vision Problems

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Who it’s for

This is extremely exciting news, but the exact type of blindness at hand should first be clarified. It has currently only been tested in people that suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, which is a genetic degenerative eye disease that affects close to 200,000 people worldwide. Unfortunately it is not for those that were born blind or lost their vision for other reasons; not yet at least.

What it is

The device is developed by a company called Retinal Implant AG and headed by Eberhart Zrenner, who is the company director and chairman of the University of Tuebingen Eye Hospital in Germany. It is a tiny plate that sits completely inside the eye. It is microscopic at only 3 mm squared and a 10th of a millimeter thick, yet it boasts a whopping 1,500 light sensors that are connected to amplifiers and electrodes. The fact that it is implanted into the eye is what makes is so unique.  There are other devices but they are epiretinal, meaning they sit outside the retina, and because they don’t use the light structures found inside the eye, they require an external camera and processor unit to function.

How it works

The device is a sub-retinal implant that is inserted underneath the retina (as the name suggest) and it functions by replacing the eye’s light receptors that are lost as a result of the disease. After that happens, the implant uses the eye’s natural image-processing functions to produce a visual image. In the preliminary trials done to “prove the concept,” 3 blind patients saw shapes and objects within days of the treatment. The participants regained enough vision for daily life, which is groundbreaking.

Amazing results

The study findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal and describe the incredible progress shown by the 3 initial patients. One patient could see shapes and could walk into a room alone; he could also distinguish between varying shades of gray and read a clock face. This has the medical and ophthalmological communities buzzing since it shows that the optic nerves can be re-awakened and that a person who hasn’t seen in many years may be able to see again. The next stage is for a bigger trial with 25-30 patients in Europe; further trials of the implant should be finished in 2-3 years and if all goes well, the device should be available for patients in about 5 years. Scientists are hoping that this new device can someday be also used to help people with age related macular degeneration which is the main cause of blindness in older people, as well blindness caused by other things.  

The photo below, courtesy of Retinal Implant AG,  shows how the technology works:

 

New intraretinal implant made by German company, Retinal Implant AG

 

Comments (1)Add Comment
MichaelSwedenberg
...
written by MichaelSwedenberg, Monday, 12:00 PM, November 08, 2010
As with so many other medical breakthroughs I've witnessed in my lifetime, this procedure will be a routine outpatient procedure in 10 years. Amazing.

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