Scientists have been working for some years to come up with the visual equivalent of the cochlear implant – a device which would restore vision to people who have gone blind because of retinal disease. While there are many diseases which would benefit from this advance, prominent among them are retinitis pigmentosa, a congenital disease, which gradually cause total blindness as the afflicted patient ages and macular degeneration. Computer chips are being studied which can send a signal to the optic nerve which the visual cortex can sense similarly to the way it interprets light under conditions of health.
Two approaches are currently under study. One places a computer chip on the retina. This technique has been around for several years and more is known about it than the newer approach discussed below. Its biggest problem is that it requires a camera and special glasses. This month the German company Retina Implant, AG announced very preliminary results using a digital chip placed beneath the retina. Experience with this device is limited, but it has the advantage of not requiring glasses or a camera. What seems almost certain is that before too much longer the combination of computer technology and medicine will restore sight to patients previously condemned to a life of blindness. But remember there’s still a way to go.
Below is the press release from Retina Implant and a story from the English edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel which describes both of the retinal implant technologies currently under investigation.