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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