This Tiny Device Is a ‘Game Changer’ for People Facing Blindness
An estimated 170 million people worldwide suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a serious eye condition marked by the death of light-sensitive cells in the retina. Doctors can slow macular degeneration with vitamins, laser surgery, stem cell treatments, and even implantable miniature telescopes. But many sufferers ultimately go blind.
In 2013, the FDA approved an artificial retina that could help restore limited vision to people with degenerative eye diseases. But the device relied on a sunglass-mounted external camera and a transmitter that relayed sight information to the retinal implant.
Now researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa and the University of California, San Diego have crafted artificial retinas that can be implanted entirely inside the eye, which offer hope to those with macular degeneration.
The devices are only experimental prototypes with many years of additional research and development likely before they might be ready for commercial use. But Dr. Grazia Pertile, director of ophthalmology at the Sacred Heart Don Calabria in Negrar, Italy and one of the Italian researchers, said in a written statement that her team’s device could be “a turning point in the treatment of extremely debilitating retinal diseases.”
She’s not alone in that assessment.
“This is definitely a game changer,” Dr. Kapil Bharti, an investigator at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland who is not involved with the research, says. “Previous versions of these work in a very, very low-resolution range. Patients were practically still blind and incapacitated as far as everyday tasks were concerned. These promise that patients could become more independent.”
When healthy, retinal cells transmit visual information to the brain. As these cells die off, AMD sufferers lose their central vision. The new prosthesis is designed to be implanted onto the back wall of the eye, where it absorbs light and transforms it into an electrical signal that stimulates the still-active retinal cells to restore vision….
Source: NBC News