US approves 'bionic eye' to give vision to the blind

Sydney, February 15 (ANI): US health agency, The Food and Drug Administration, has approved the first treatment to give limited vision to people who are blind, involving a technology called the "artificial retina."

Second Sight Medical Products develop the technology to treat people with severe retinitis pigmentosa, a group of inherited diseases in which photoreceptor cells, which take in light, deteriorate, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

With the artificial retina, people with certain types of blindness can detect crosswalks on the street, burners on a stove, the presence of people or cars, and sometimes even oversized numbers or letters.

The artificial retina is a sheet of electrodes surgically implanted in the eye. The patient is also outfitted with a pair of glasses with an attached camera and a portable video processor. These elements together allow visual signals to bypass the damaged portion of the retina and be transmitted to the brain.

The FDA approval covers this integrated system, which the manufacturer calls Argus II.

The agency says that up to 4000 people a year can be treated with the device. That number represents people who are older than 25, who once had useful vision, have evidence of an intact inner retinal layer, have at best very limited light perception in the retina and are so visually impaired that the device would prove an improvement.

But experts said the technology holds promise for other people who are blind, especially those with advanced age-related macular degeneration, the major cause of vision loss in older people.

In Europe, Argus II received approval in 2011 to treat a broader group of people, those with severe blindness caused by any type of outer retinal degeneration, not just retinitis pigmentosa, although it is currently only marketed in Europe for that condition.

Developed over 20 years by Dr Mark S. Humayun, an ophthalmologist and biomedical engineer at the University of Southern California's Doheny Retinal Institute, the artificial retina was inspired by cochlear implants for the deaf.

Dr Humayun said he envisioned applying the technology to other conditions than blindness, implanting electrodes in other parts of the body to address bladder control problems, perhaps, or spinal paralysis. (ANI)