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Bionic Vision

We've all heard of the fictional bionic man whose body consisted of digital computer parts that enabled him to perform at an energy level unequaled in the medical annals. His name was Lee Majors and he could leap over the tallest buildings and was faster than a speeding bullet. 

Implant electrodes stimulate retina 
and send signal to brain

Devices of unimagined technical advancement have been developed to help scientists and research investigators who are working upon numerous projects to serve the needs of John Q. Public.

Some months ago EyeCare Professional reported on a device which allowed the viewer to witness a virtual 36 inch TV screen that was projected before their eyes via a complicated electronic system which was partially housed in the temples of a pair of eyeglasses. That was merely a charming interlude compared to the amazing progress being made toward the finalization of the bionic eye and the eyeglasses that are an integral part of the delivery of this miraculous device.

The ultimate goal is to help restore vision in patients once considered blind. This addresses the patient affected by such diseases as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration and Leber's disease. An artificial implanted retina concept has been approved for study by the FDA. It is called the Argus II Retinal Prostheses System. It mimics the eye's natural ability to absorb light and process it into a picture. A wireless signal is transmitted from the camera located in the eyeglasses to a small processing device that is the size of a Walkman. It can be worn on a belt. It is then transmitted to a receiver and an electrode laden panel that is implanted in the eye and attached to the retina. Any retinal receptors that are still intact help the signal along the optic nerve and to the brain. Blind patients can detect light or distinguish between gross objects; thus the Argus II is able to produce higher resolution images than ever before. The new model is one quarter the size of the original, which has reduced surgical risks and improved recovery time.

Considering the fact that there are 25 million people throughout the world - including six million in the USA - who are suffering with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration, the bionic eye will become a highly important item in the task of aiding that handicapped population. It is interesting to note that when all is said and done concerning this astounding breakthrough, the system works best when the video camera is installed as an attachment to a pair of eyeglass temples. 

In England, two completely blind men were fitted with bionic eyes and are now able to walk about unaided and can see large objects. Thirteen other patients in the USA, Mexico and Europe were given bionic eyes and eyeglasses as part of a three year study. Lyndon da Cruz, M.D., one of the consulting surgeons at Moorfields Hospital, London, England, stated, "These people are truly blind and depend upon a stick, a dog or another person to find their way around,” she said. "We want to see if we can give them some level of rudimentary vision which they will find useful, predominantly to navigate so that they can gain some measure of independence."

Linda Morfoot, age 64 of Long Beach, CA, had retinitis pigmentosa at age twenty one and was almost completely blind at age fifty. "When they gave me the glasses, it was just amazing," she said. "I can shoot baskets with my grandson and I can stay in the middle of the sidewalk. I can find the door to get out of a room and I can see my granddaughter dancing across the stage." She adds, "When I went to New York I could see the Statue of Liberty and how large it was in reality. In Paris we went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night and it was exciting to see all the city lights. I feel more connected to my surroundings."

Mark Humayun, M.D. was instrumental in developing the technology at Doheny Eye Institute, Los Angeles, CA."The camera/eyeglass combination helps the brain to fill in the missing information,” said Dr Humayun. "This field is really blossoming." 

But John Marshall of St. Thomas Hospital in London, England cautions, "The technique is still in its early days. The general public should not race away with the idea that this is going to be routine surgery for blind people in the immediate future because there is an enormous amount yet to learn."

Once the device becomes available, it won't come cheap. There is an expected price tag of $30,000. That may not include the cost of the all important eyeglass frame. Why haven't we heard from our trailblazing, innovative, creative, aggressive frame manufacturers with suggestions about the frame styles, colors and sizes?

Elmer Friedman, O.D.

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Posted: 1/25/2011 6:33:47 AM

the tech is great...hope it comes out quickly and the price subsidized.
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