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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.


"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs














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