Artificial Vision

Several efforts are now underway to create vision in otherwise blind eyes. While technically exciting, much more work in this area needs to be completed before anything is available to the majority of patients.

Could an electronic device in the retina replace damaged photoreceptor cells? Scientists are exploring several different avenues to see if this can be done successfully.

At first, researchers demonstrated an electric “artificial retina” that allows blind patients to see spots of light. A two millimeter square chip (called an “array”) was placed on the non-functioning retina of 15 patients, who were awake during the surgery. Dots of lights were transmitted wirelessly to the chip by an eyeglass-mounted device. The patients reported being able to see these dots and to count sequences of light flashes. Some could make out colors and shapes and even read letters held before their eyes. The chips only remained in place during the 45 minute surgery.

Since then, the scientists have developed more complex arrays and are now implanting a much smaller square that contains even more cells. The more cells in the array, the more detailed the vision. This research is very experimental and it will be some years before it is available to patients. The vision provided by these devices will be a very primitive form, useful for gaining enough vision to navigate. It is not good enough vision for reading or driving. Also, the surgery involves risks which may be acceptable to a person with no vision, but might be too much of a chance for an AMD patient with useful peripheral vision.

For more information, visit the following locations:

  • Artificial Retina Project – A number of researchers and institutions around the U.S. are collaborating with the Department of Energy on this project.
  • ARGUS II – Approved by FDA.  Developed by Dr. Mark Humayun at the Doheny Eye Institute and part of the Department of Energy Artificial Retina Project.
  • Boston Retinal Implant Project – The Boston Retinal Implant Project uses a different approach with the same goal.
  • The Ligon Research Center – The Ligon Research Center of Vision at Wayne State University includes an engineering laboratory,working on new biomaterials for the implant. They are also maintaining a list of people interested in Clinical Trials.

April 2015