Retinal Implant Restores Vision to Blind In Clinical Trial

Patients with degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration have no approved, effective treatment options for regaining their sight. Once lost, vision cannot be restored. However, advances in retinal implants may one day give these patients the ability to see again. Retinal implants represent the best hope of restoring some degree of sight to patients who suffer from degenerative eye diseases.

Retina Implant of Reutlingen, Germany, announced the results of its first human clinical trial to treat retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive, degenerative eye condition that can lead to blindness. Patients in the trial were outfitted with a prosthetic device implanted just beneath the retina. The results of the trial exceeded researchers’ expectations. Some of the 11 patients involved in the study could even see well enough to read words and recognize foreign objects. In previous studies conducted by other companies, patients could only see light and the outlines of objects.

Retinitis pigmentosa affects an estimated 200,000 people worldwide. There are currently no available treatments to slow the progression of the disease or restore vision to RP patients. Retinal Implant’s prosthesis consists of a tiny microchip that contains a number of photocells. The photocells absorb the light entering the eye and transform it into electrical energy, which helps to stimulate retinal nerve cells. The electrical nerve impulses of the cells are then transmitted to the visual cortex, where they produce visual images.

Another German company, Intelligent Medical Implants, is developing and testing an “artificial retina” to restore visual perception to patients with degerative eye diseases. The company’s Learning Retina Implant System captures images from a patient’s surroundings and uses them to stimulate the retina. In this way, the patient may be able to have some visual perception.

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