Retinal Implant Offers New Hope for the Blind

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Each year, 1.2 million people with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) suffer severe vision loss. Another 20,000 will go totally blind due to a degenerative disease known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). But there is hope.

MIT engineers have designed a retinal implant for people blinded by AMD or RP. The retinal enhancement system can help restore some vision by electrically stimulating nerve cells that normally carry visual messages from the retina to the brain.

While the technology can't completely restore normal vision, it can make it easier for those afflicted with AMD or RP to navigate a room or walk through a park. The technology combines an implant with a pair of glasses equipped with a tiny camera. A coil in the camera transmits power to receiving coils surrounding the eyeball. When the microchip receives visual information, electrodes stimulate nerve cells in the areas of the retina corresponding to the visual image. The electrodes then directly activate optical nerves, allowing visual images to be carried to the brain.

The MIT research team is working on an enhanced prototype they are eager to start testing in patients suffering from AMD or RP. Human trials are key because the feedback from blind patients will help researchers configure the algorithm implemented by the chip to enhance visual processing.

See full scientific details of this exciting engineering breakthrough in IEEE's Wireless Subretinal Neurostimulator article.

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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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