A new science-fiction-made-real medical device restores sight to the blind, and it may soon be available in the United States.
The quest for a bionic eye has been long and expensive, costing in some lines of research hundreds of millions of dollars. The quest has been fruitful for California firm Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., which has produced a device named Argus II.
The Argus II combines an eye implant with special video-camera-like glasses to make what is called a "retinal prosthesis." The device benefits victims of retinitis pigmentosa, a rare disease that destroys the cells in the retina and that causes vision to become progressively blurry. The disease, which ultimately results in blindness, affects about 100,000 people in the U.S.
The new device works by sending visual data through the implant to areas of a patient's eye which still function. The Argus II is already available on the European market.
People who suffer from severe macular degeneration, which damages the part of the eye that distinguishes fine detail, may also benefit from variations of the device. All of the different versions of retinal prostheses currently under development use video cameras to send light information to chip implants in the eye. In most of them, the data activates electrodes in the chip that generates pixels of light on the retina, which the brain processes normally as images.
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