This could be a life changing and historic moment for a number of blind patients in the world: the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of an Artificial Retina that could help a specific group of vision-impaired patients to recover a partial vision. The principle of the Artificial Retina works like this: the retina is basically the eye’s “light sensors”, and when it is damaged, the light information isn’t received, and therefore it cannot be transmitted to the brain.The Argus II Artificial Retina uses electronic light sensors (a camera) that performs the function of the retina. It is connected to either the optic nerve, or directly to the brain so that signal can be transmitted. Unfortunately, patients don’t recover full vision capabilities, but going from blindness to partial vision is surely a life-changing event. Now, patients would see obstacles and people’s shapes, which is a huge improvements from seeing very little, or nothing at tall.
The system is mounted on a pair of glasses and is called Argus II. It has a camera mounted at the center of the glasses, in between the eyes. The image captured by the camera is converted to signal that is transmitted to an implant in the eye, connected to the optic nerve. That’s how it effectively replaces the Retina. See the video below:
It is just amazing to see how science can now solve problems that were once deemed “unfixable” due to their complex biological nature. And this is only the beginning: in fact, this is not the first time that such a project has been attempted. Cornell University has been working on a similar concept and presented at TED. In Israel, a company has been developing a product called Bio-Retina which aims at solving the same problem. In fact, Ubergizmo has published about the Argus II device for the first time in 2009 when a blind man could see again with an earlier prototype. Finally, the University of Tübingen in Germany has been working on such a concept as well.
One thing is for sure: in the near future, a category of blindness can be cared for by augmenting the human body. Technically, the patients would be cyborgs. This is science for good, at its best. With technological progress, those patients will one day see as well as any of us, if not better.
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