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Monday, November 15, 2010

Helping the blind see

German researchers have developed and tested a retinal implant that allows blind people to see shapes and objects. This breakthrough may allow blind people to have a much greater degree of independence.

The device was tested on three individuals suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative genetic eye disorder. The light receptors of patients afflicted with this disease eventually cease to function, resulting in incurable blindness. The scientists got the idea of implanting artificial light receptors beneath the patients’ retinas. In this way, the device could use the natural, undamaged image processing capabilities of the eye, rather than rely on external cameras and processors, as is the case for implants that lie outside the retina.


Functional scheme of subretinal implants.

Credit: © Retina Implant AG.

Thus far, the device has exceeded expectations. One volunteer was able to identify objects on a table, read a clock and differentiate between shades of gray.