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FDA approves prosthetic for the visually impaired

This week the FDA gave its approval to the first retinal prosthesis aimed at restoring partial sight to those suffering from certain types of blindness. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System requires surgical implantation and requires the user to wear a special set of video glasses.

Through the use of clinical trials, the manufacturer was able to demonstrate that completely blind individuals were able to successfully identify the approximate size and position of objects and to detect movement of objects and people. Some users are reportedly also able to identify large letters and numbers.

The video processing unit is able to transform images captured by the video camera into electronic data that is then wirelessly transmitted to the prosthetic device implanted inside the eye. Those pulses then travel through the optic nerve into the brain where the brain perceives the patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to the electrodes stimulated.
The system is designed to treat people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, which is a genetic condition where the light-sensitive cells in the retina degenerate to the point of being non-functional. The condition affects about one out of 4,000 people in the United States.

The FDA says, "In a healthy eye, these cells change light rays into electrical impulses and send them through the optic nerve to the area of the brain that assembles the impulses into an image. In people with retinitis pigmentosa, the light-sensitive cells slowly degenerate resulting in gradual loss of side vision and night vision, and later of central vision. The condition can lead to blindness."

The Argus II system is far from cheap with costs for the system estimated at $150,000 not counting surgery and training.

Sources: NetworkWorld, Artificial Retina Project

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RE: Sounds very, very rudimentary in practicalness
By Mint on 2/15/2013 11:26:52 AM , Rating: 5
It has an incredible impact.

I did my PhD at Caltech in a group that did some of the pioneering work in this area. Years ago we built a simple 4x4 electrode array to stimulate a blind man's retina, and even these few "pixels" were enough to provide some usable visual functionality. By scanning his head and paying attention to outlines, one patient was able to identify white objects on a black slate. Another was able to recognize where the doorframes and windows are on his house.

Our group has worked closely with Second Sight, and is currently working with USC's BMES center:
This will have 1024 electrodes, and unlike the Argus II, it'll be entirely contained inside the eyeball with no cable going through the sclera.

Personally, I'm working on somewhat similar implants to make paralyzed rats walk again. The early human work (same collaborative project, but not my device) has shown some amazing results:

RE: Sounds very, very rudimentary in practicalness
By Ramstark on 2/15/2013 12:02:35 PM , Rating: 2
Wow! If you are really involved in the project for paralysis cure, it looks awesome and much more significant work that to give "monochromatic" vision to the blind. Don't getme wrong, its a great work, but I've always supported "radar vision" using the already enhanced hearing sense.


RE: Sounds very, very rudimentary in practicalness
By Mint on 2/15/2013 1:21:03 PM , Rating: 2
Take a look at what we've done with rats:
(apologies in advance if you have to suffer through the excruciatingly slow loading ad as I did)

The video (from 2009) show a paralyzed rat on a treadmill and the amazing impact of electrical stimulation being on/off. We've now built much more advanced devices.

By geddarkstorm on 2/15/2013 8:22:57 PM , Rating: 2
Fantastic work, Mint. I hope I can eventually work on such applied aspects, but for now it's developmental neuroplasticity for me. Dailytech commenting is meaningless, but the work you do is truly important and could change the world we know; keep it going!

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