Artificial Retinas Offer New Hope to the Blind

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According to the World Health Organization, 314 million people in the world are visually impaired and 45 million are blind. The WHO defines blindness as the best vision in either eye is 20/400 or worse. Engineers are working to help.

Blindness is often caused by a detached or damaged retina. The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of your eye that senses light and sends images to your brain. In the center of this nerve tissue is the macula. It provides the acute, central vision needed for reading, driving and distinguishing fine detail. Biological engineers unite optics with biology.

Those suffering from retinal blindness may have cause for hope. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Artificial Retina Project is working to develop an implantable microelectronic retinal prosthesis that restores sight to those blinded by retinal diseases.

The ultimate goal of the project is to restore reading ability, facial recognition, and unaided mobility in people with retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.

The project takes advantage of the advanced research technologies and resources developed at DOE's national laboratories. Engineers hope to overcome the technical challenges they face in creating a safe, effective artificial retina. The research team unites six DOE national laboratories, four universities, and private industry.

The engineering team has so far, developed and is in the process of testing three artificial retinas. One features 16 electrodes and has already been implanted in six patients. Another model integrates a 60-electrode array and has been implanted in 30 patients. Finally, a third model featuring an array with a higher electrode count is under development.

Clinical testing of these artificial retinas is supported by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health and others.

For an additional perspective, check out this video:

Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients.

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