Breakthrough for Blindness
Reported August 2010
LOS ANGELES (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- You may have it and not even know it. Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic eye disease that affects 100,000 people across the country. It mostly affects people in their 20s and 30s. In fact, this disease leaves its victims practically blind. Now, doctors are using bionic eyes to help people see again.
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"I was in my early 20s," Kathleen Blake recalled to Ivanhoe. "I started tripping over things. I thought I needed glasses."
Little did Blake know, her world would soon go dark.
"I ended up having to leave my job and stay at home, Blake explained.
Blake was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. It destroys the cells in the retina that capture and process light. Blake's world went dark and then she was told about a new artificial retina.
"I hadn't seen for almost 20 years and I thought, 'Well, I really don't have anything to lose, Blake said.
Ophthalmologist Mark Humayun with the University of Southern California created this bionic eye.
"There's an implanted microelectronic chip in the eye, and then there's a camera that the patient wears, Dr. Humayan explained.
A camera converts an image into an electrical signal that is transmitted wirelessly to the implant. The implant unscrambles the signal and sends it to 60 electrodes on the retina at the back of the eye, creating a black and white picture. The picture then travels to the optic nerve, and to Blake's brain.
"So when you first implant this device, it isn't like they can immediately see. It takes a while for the brain to get used to it, Dr. Humayan said.
Although her vision isn't entirely clear, Blake's seeing more now than she has in decades.
"I can pick up doorways. I'm able to sort my laundry. I love to watch TV, Blake said.
Simple pleasures mark a major breakthrough in blindness. This is the second generation of the artificial retina. The next step is to make the images even clearer. The device ultimately may be used for millions of people suffering from age-related macular degeneration. It's the leading cause of blindness for people over 60 in developed nations. Disease that starts with blurred vision and color loss and leads to complete blindness.
The Materials Research Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.-USA, and the Optical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Jon Weiner (Public Information Officer)
USC Health Sciences
Los Angeles, CA
Materials Research Society
Warrendale, PA 15086-7573
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
Optical Society of America
Washington, DC 20036-1023
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