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An artist's rendition of the implants and the transmitter.  (Source: Second Sight)

A diagram of how the implant relays its information, first from the camera, next to the processor, and finally to the implanted receiver/electrode pair.  (Source: The Telegraph UK)
Exciting breakthroughs promise partial vision to blind, though much research work remains

Some disabilities, such as blindness have long been beyond the limits of our medical and technological prowess to cure.  While significant advances have been made in preventing sight loss, many chronic, irreversible conditions remain that can lead to blindness.  However, recent breakthroughs have turned science fiction into reality, offering limited vision to the fully blind.

Second Sight Vision, a U.S. company located near Los Angeles, is becoming the pioneering enterprise in commercial electro-ocular implants.  Starting as early as 2004, it began carrying out research a series of 15 implants.  The implants are part of a trial that has been going on for over three years, with patients in the U.S., Europe, and Mexico.  The trial is the first of its kind.

On Monday, two British citizens received the implants at London's Moorfields Eye Hospital.  The two men, both in their 50s, were completely blind before the operation.  If successful, the operation should grant them limited vision allow them to navigate around obstacles and see objects.  The operation to implant the artificial implants inside the existing ocular tissue takes about 3 hours.  The retinas cost about $23,000 USD and are predicted to be approved for general use within three years.

Lyndon da Cruz, the surgeon who performed both operations, was optimistic about the patients’ chances.  He stated, "The devices were implanted successfully in both patients and they are recovering well from the operations."

Both men in the trial have retinitis pigmentosa.  This disease strikes at the eye's light-sensitive retinal cells, killing them and eliminating the eye's ability to transform light into a series of electrical impulses.  The inability to convey these impulses leads to blindness.  Over 25,000 people are affected by retinitis pigmentosa in Britain alone. 

The implant could also offer relief to people with other conditions which render the optic nerve intact, but inoperative.  With 360,000 registered as blind or partially sighted, and 2 million listed as severely vision impaired, in Britain alone, this technology could benefit millions worldwide.

Cruz added, "Conceptually it could be used for anyone with extremely poor vision but a physically intact optic nerve. The sort of vision we are getting is not good quality but as the thing gets better it will open up to more and more people."

The implant, known as the Argus II, relies on a three-step process.  Information is first collected via a wireless camera attached to a pair of glasses.  The camera transmits the signal to a small processing computer about the size of a small MP3 player, located on the users’ belt area.  This device in turn communicates with the ultra thin electronic receiver implanted on the side of the eye.  This receiver finally conveys the message to an array of electrodes implanted in the retinal region, stimulating the optic nerve.

The current version uses 60 electrodes in an array to allow viewing of objects on a 10 by 6 resolution grid of light and dark spots.  This allows people the ability to see a wide range of shapes.  A cruder early version of the device utilized a 4 by 4 grid, with 16 electrodes.  Even the 16 electrode versions are pretty effective, though.  Linda Morfoot, 64, living in Long Beach, California, has suffered from retinitis pigmentosa from her initial diagnosis at 21, and by 50 was almost entirely blind.  She received an implant of the 4x4 version in 2004.

She says the device is life changing and a complete success.  She explained, "When they gave me the glasses it was just amazing.  I can shoot baskets with my grandson, I can stay in the middle of the sidewalk. I can find the door to get out of a room, and I can see my granddaughter dancing across the stage.  When we went to New York I could see the Statue of Liberty, how big it was. In Paris we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, and I could see all the city lights. I feel more connected to what's around me."

With the success of the initial trials and the incredible dedications of Second Sight Vision and the medical community, commercial success for the firm seems inevitable.  And with it, surely the technology will be further refined, providing higher resolution viewing, and perhaps one day color vision.

Barbara McLauglan, Eye Health Campaign Manager at Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) is among those who can't wait -- she says the device is amazing.  She remarked, "We very much welcome the progress that is being made with this type of technology. While 50 per cent of sight loss can be prevented, we must not forget that there are conditions that cannot be treated at present such as dry age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.  An improved bionic eye that allows blind people to see more of their surroundings will improve their mobility and quality of life. RNIB will continue to monitor progress in this area with great interest over the next few years."

In the United States, 598,000 people are legally blind.  Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates 37 million (about 0.6 percent of the total world population) to be blind.



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Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By JasonMick (blog) on 4/23/2008 11:09:58 AM , Rating: 5
Does anyone else think Jesus would have a tougher sell these days?
People would be like what you treated blindless? Yea, yea, big deal we saw that on discovery health...
What you cured a madman? What did you slip him some Clozaril and Prozac?

Yes, it'd be tough times to prove your powers as a religious figure...




RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By whynot on 4/23/2008 11:23:52 AM , Rating: 2
Jason,
Any idea what percentage of blind people this would be useful for?


By inperfectdarkness on 4/23/2008 8:59:30 PM , Rating: 2
and how far away from reality is the capability to simply "grow" replacement eyeballs of our own? i mean, the pentagon is already working on replacement limbs and stuff. i wonder...


By jpknoll on 4/24/2008 4:58:12 PM , Rating: 2
We can barely grow skin, what some people would perceive as a fairly simple tissue. The eye has several dozen tissues types. Current technology can regrow the cornea, the most outer layer on your eye (exposed to the air).

We are only able to do this because the body has almost no immune response to the cornea (low to no blood flow).

As for limb replacement, we are able to improve the body's natural regenerative process in bones and muscles through the use of growth factors and very specific matrix/scaffolding procedures. However the process is extremely delicate and expensive (think 10k for a small sample of purified growth factor).


By therealnickdanger on 4/23/2008 11:29:20 AM , Rating: 5
Well, I'm not so sure nano-technology will ever absolve believers from their sins, so he'll always have that ace up his sleeve. Ask me again after 30 years of quantum exploration.


By FITCamaro on 4/23/2008 12:47:29 PM , Rating: 1
I'll just live in sin then. It's quite fun.


RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By wien on 4/23/2008 11:32:19 AM , Rating: 5
These days Jesus would get locked up in an institution and heavily medicated.


RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By FITCamaro on 4/23/2008 11:51:43 AM , Rating: 5
Well if his abilities were real, more like captured by the military and studied to see how he did it.


RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By rdeegvainl on 4/23/2008 12:13:34 PM , Rating: 5
Yes I'm sure they would try, but if his abilities were real, he also had that trick of not being caught when he didn't want to be.


By ThePooBurner on 4/23/2008 12:45:40 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget that he can call down legions of immortal angels of death to defend Himself. When he comes back the world will be in for an unpleasent (well, if you aren't on the right side of the fence) surprise when they see just what a God can really do.


By Lastfreethinker on 4/23/2008 1:08:38 PM , Rating: 5
Acts of men are greater then acts of god.


By StevoLincolnite on 4/24/2008 2:55:56 AM , Rating: 2
"When God Created Man, She was only joking".


RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By FITCamaro on 4/23/2008 1:22:30 PM , Rating: 4
Angels are vulnerable to silver bullets.

Seriously, if you're going to try to tell us we're all going to hell for not believing, don't waste your breath.....fingers.


By isorfir on 4/23/2008 3:52:57 PM , Rating: 2
I think you're smoking some of the stuff you're burning.


By VoodooChicken on 4/23/2008 4:20:28 PM , Rating: 2
It's sad they probably wouldn't let him join the FLDS compound. Not with the beard and robes.


RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By Polynikes on 4/23/2008 12:27:00 PM , Rating: 2
I'd rather wait for Jesus to come rub mud in my eyes to cure my blindness than pay a lot of money for a technological fix.

Not.


By murphyslabrat on 4/23/2008 3:10:34 PM , Rating: 2
Well, $23,000 or some dirt in your now-working-eye. I know what i'd pick.


By MeTaedet on 4/23/2008 12:31:01 PM , Rating: 2
I understand that you are simply joking, but Clozaril isn't anything approaching a cure for Schizophrenia or any psychosis of any other aetiology (not to say that Schizophrenia has just one). It is simply a palliative treatment which likely leaves the brain to continue decreasing in volume by 5% each year, and certainly leaves one with many marked cognitive deficits and interpersonal difficulties. The difference between an actual miraculous cure and your Clozaril + Prozac "cure" would be quite substantial.

quote:
"Some disabilities, such as blindness have long been beyond the limits of our medical and technological prowess to cure.... However, recent breakthroughs have turned science fiction into reality, offering limited vision to the fully blind."


I have a gripe with this article and it is that this isn't especially new. This isn't the first time we've restored sight to the blind by any means. Even as far back as the 70's scientists were running wires into the visual cortex of blind people and triggering visual subjective experiences. And there have been several who have had cameras mounted near their eyes with the output being directed into their visual cortices, restoring their sight to just such an extent as to allow them to operate a vehicle under very light traffic conditions.

Whether your article features any inaccuracies or not depends on what your definition of "recent" is.


RE: Just a random controversial/comedic thought
By FITCamaro on 4/23/2008 12:49:22 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Yes, it'd be tough times to prove your powers as a religious figure...


But it'd make a great Vegas show. "Coming to the Vegas strip its.....JESUS! Watch him cure the blind and turn water into wine!"


By daftrok on 4/23/2008 2:06:57 PM , Rating: 5
"Look at this vase of water...okay turn around."
"...What?"
"Turn--turn around."
*Turns around. Jesus hides water vase replaces it with wine vase*
"Okay now turn back."


By encryptkeeper on 4/23/2008 1:22:40 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, it'd be tough times to prove your powers as a religious figure...

But now people will fall for the REALLY stupid stuff, like Jerry Falwell saying that September 11th happened because women were gaining rights in the workplace.


By Sahrin on 4/24/2008 5:11:29 PM , Rating: 2
The irony of this comment is that that's exactly why it DID happen; just wasn't Jerry Falwell saying.


By geddarkstorm on 4/23/2008 2:42:58 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Yes, it'd be tough times to prove your powers as a religious figure...


Call me old fashion, but if one was able to heal biological maladies with simply one's personal power and using no technology or medicine to speak of, that'd be a heck of a lot more impressive then sticking electrodes in an eyeball. :P


By murphyslabrat on 4/23/2008 3:13:48 PM , Rating: 2
Though, the idea is that the difference is one of measurable magnitude. It's the difference between 90/0 vs 90/1; it really is quite a shift.


By nstott on 4/24/2008 3:09:10 AM , Rating: 2
Pharmaceuticals are a cure? Let's see: continual use of drugs to treat a chronic disease, merely reducing symptoms while giving you dry mouth and delayed ejaculation in addition to destroying your liver and kidneys over the longterm. Of course, not to worry, there are always cures for the cures which will have all sorts of other interesting side effects.


Bad picture
By darkpaw on 4/23/2008 10:54:23 AM , Rating: 5
Great news, but shoulda found a pic of G'Kar holding his eye instead of that lame movie.




RE: Bad picture
By EntreHoras on 4/23/2008 10:57:24 AM , Rating: 2
I expected the picture of the Bionic Woman.


RE: Bad picture
By SilthDraeth on 4/23/2008 11:03:51 AM , Rating: 2
I like the movie pictured. Though it is sort of lame. Go figure. But at any rate, I expected the guy from Star Trek with the visor.


RE: Bad picture
By jajig on 4/23/2008 12:33:41 PM , Rating: 2
It makes more sense with the picture they're using where he has his bionic eyes.


Picture = Fail
By Proteusza on 4/23/2008 10:58:27 AM , Rating: 2
Where is Geordi La Forge?




RE: Picture = Fail
By ajfink on 4/23/2008 11:05:50 AM , Rating: 2
Good call!

Too bad the more fitting pictures of him with eye implants aren't as iconic.


RE: Picture = Fail
By ZimZum on 4/23/2008 12:02:12 PM , Rating: 3
I liked the Jeordie's Visor better myself. That thing was bad ass. Like Snake eyes from GI Joe.


RE: Picture = Fail
By arazok on 4/24/2008 9:41:32 AM , Rating: 2
I never understood how they had the technology to create any meal you desired out of thin air, could create flesh and blood 'holograms', or concoct a cure for any disease in a few hours - but they couldn't cure Geordi's blindness.


RE: Picture = Fail
By nstott on 4/24/2008 3:13:58 AM , Rating: 2
On Reading Rainbow... :P


Alignment
By MagnumMan on 4/23/2008 11:43:21 AM , Rating: 2
What I find most interesting is however in the world did they figure out how to align this thing so that when you put in the implant that stimulates the nerve, that you didn't end up giving someone slightly off-kilter or (whoops!) 90 degree or 180 degree rotated vision by accident. I have no idea how the ocular nerves work at all, so maybe it's impossible to screw up the vision alignment, maybe the signals are all different somehow and travel in parallel? Or maybe they have a built-in alignment process that people have to follow?




RE: Alignment
By fake01 on 4/23/2008 12:23:02 PM , Rating: 1
They didn't do 3 years of testing on thousands of patients for nothing you know.


RE: Alignment
By InsaneGain on 4/23/2008 1:03:23 PM , Rating: 2
I read in a psychology text that if you wear special glasses that invert your view upside-down for a long enough period, your brain will adjust and flip the view back to being upright again. Then if you remove the glasses, your view will be upside-down again until your brain adjusts back to normal.


RE: Alignment
By Belegost on 4/23/2008 1:25:05 PM , Rating: 2
Since the system uses cameras mounted on glasses, it seems like you could adjust the fit of the glasses, and the orientation of the cameras at any time, so my guess would be there is a calibration step where the cameras are oriented to match the patients particular needs.

Of course, the brain is rather resilient to changes in the visual signals anyhow - there have been studies done with rotating the vision by means of goggles (up to a 180deg rotation), and within a short time the brain will adjust, and the person will notice no particular problems.


Only really useful for...
By Schrag4 on 4/23/2008 11:57:30 AM , Rating: 4
Assumming we were able to develop even a very high resolution version of this technology, this would only be really beneficial to those that had normal sight and then lost it, or very, very young children who have no sight.

I say this because we spend the first 3-6 years of our lives learning how to see. That learning period cannot be made up later on.

I saw an interesing show in Discovery or TLC (or one of those channels) that showcased a man who had a surgery to fully restore his sight. Unfortunately, since he lost his sight at a very young age (like 2 or something), he wasn't able to 'just see' once his eyes started working again. Instead, he had to focus and concentrate on every little thing just to see what it was. Not only that, but he lacked the basic knowledge of how to see things like depth perception, etc. We spend YEARS when we're young (and able to learn rapidly) getting all this stuff down, and he missed that.

So, unless you lost your sight as an 8 year old or later, this tech probably wouldn't be very useful to you. Perhaps a blind infant could get this implant (high res of course) and learn how to see just like a normal-sighted child, who knows.




RE: Only really useful for...
By PitViper007 on 4/23/2008 12:41:19 PM , Rating: 2
I saw the same show and I agree. You would have to have had vision I'd say up until at least the age of 5 or so for this to be really useful. If you were born blind, or lost vision at an extremely early age, you'd have the same problems that the guy from the show did.


Blind people and silent cars
By lufoxe on 4/23/2008 10:58:01 AM , Rating: 5
Does this mean we can have quieter cars now? (I hope I'm not the only one that remembers that DT article
http://www.dailytech.com/Blind+Pedestrians+Continu... )




Screen Details?
By barjebus on 4/23/2008 11:23:52 AM , Rating: 2
How does the screen work? 4x4 and 10x6, is that pixels? Solidly colored pixels? What depth of color? Black and white?




RE: Screen Details?
By Visual on 4/24/2008 7:33:10 AM , Rating: 2
I want to go play a game in 10x6 resolution now, or even 4x4 - just to get a feel for it. Yet even then I probably won't be able to imagine living a life with such vision.
I know that a low resolution is better than complete blindness... but I hope they can quickly improve this tech.

Eventually I have no doubts this tech will be so good it can be used even by a healthy person, for something like OSD/HUD built-in into your vision; infrared or x-ray or any other specter vision; amazing optical zoom; virtual reality and so on. The question is, how soon.

The potential to help maybe millions of blind people worldwide is great, but personally, I think the fact that we are actually able to interface our electronic components with the brain successfully is the more important part of these experiments. This reaffirms my belief that Brain-Computer Interfaces are going to be the greatest revolution in human history, and will possibly happen in my lifetime too.
I know I am being extremely arrogant here, but hey, at least I'm being honest.


Forget Jesus
By tubalcain on 4/23/2008 2:37:32 PM , Rating: 2
Can someone give Stevie Wonder a peak... a fucking peak!




RE: Forget Jesus
By cplusplus on 4/23/2008 3:32:13 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Can someone give Stevie Wonder a peak... a fucking peak!


1.) Great use of Chris Rock.

2.) How the hell do you misspell peek?


Errmm....
By ZaethDekar on 4/23/2008 1:16:06 PM , Rating: 2
For some reason I have a feeling there is going to be a 'caveman vs geico' thing going on.

On one hand people will think, sweet I can see again.

On the other they will be 'God made us blind, who are you to change that?'




By scorpio1980 on 4/24/2008 5:14:23 PM , Rating: 2
Bionic Eyes Implants Give Partial Vision to Blind Patients....online porn sites report record new subscribers




By phxfreddy on 4/30/2008 8:08:03 PM , Rating: 2
They could call you old one eye. Winking, blinking and sometimes spits.




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