Feature Writer Ann Chiappetta – FDA Approves Bionic Eye

A new device that takes the place of damaged cells inside the eye has just been released that promises to help RP patients regain useable vision with a new retinal implant.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System as the first treatment for the inherited disorder RP (retinitis pigmentosa) that causes the breakdown of cells in the retina. The device was developed by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., located In Selmer, CA. It was released in Europe in 2011, and now has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) here in the United States. Initially, the implant and camera mounted on a pair of glasses will only be available to a limited and carefully selected number of individuals, but Second Sight hopes to increase its availability in time.

The system is quite ingenious. It includes a small video camera and transmitter mounted on a pair of glasses. Images from the camera are processed into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to electrodes implanted into the patient’s retina, resulting in visual feedback.

Results from a study of 30 patients with the condition showed that most were able to perform daily activities better with the implant than without it. Activities included navigating sidewalks and curbs, matching different color socks, and recognizing large words or sentences.

Why hasn’t developing this kind of technology come to us sooner? One expert says scientists have said that designing a bionic eye has been much more difficult than developing aids like cochlear implants for hearing, in part because visual information is two-dimensional, and because of the anatomy of the eye.

From what I’ve read, the implant only enables black and white or high contrast resolution, and they hope to continue to develop implants to repair color vision and even the deteriorating effects of macular degeneration. Who knows, this may even get other developers to compete and provide more choices for those who want to use the device.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/19/health/fda-bionic-eye

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