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February 15, 2013, 9:22 am

Daily Report: Device Offers Partial Vision for the Blind

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first treatment to give limited vision to people who are blind, involving a technology called the artificial retina, reports Pam Belluck in Friday's New York Times.

The device allows people with a certain type of blindness to detect crosswalks on the street, the presence of people or cars, and sometimes even large numbers or letters. The approval of the system marks a milestone in a new frontier in vision research, a field in which scientists are making strides with gene therapy, optogenetics, stem cells and other strategies.

The artificial retina is a sheet of electrodes implanted in the eye. The patient is also given glasses with an attached camera and a portable video processor. This system, called Argus II, allows visual signals to bypass the damaged portion of the retina and be transmitted to the brain.

With the artificial retina or retinal prosthesis, a blind person cannot see in the conventional sense, but can identify outlines and boundaries of objects, especially when there is contrast between light and dark — fireworks against a night sky or black socks mixed with white ones.

The F.D.A. approved Argus II, made by Second Sight Medical Products, to treat people with severe retinitis pigmentosa, in which photoreceptor cells, which take in light, deteriorate.

The eyeglass camera captures images, which the video processor translates into pixelized patterns of light and dark, and transmits them to the electrodes. The electrodes then send them to the brain.

"The questions that this particular device raised for F.D.A. were very new," Dr. Malvina Eydelman, the F.D.A.'s director for the Division of Ophthalmic and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices, told The Times. "It's a big step forward for the whole ophthalmology field."

 
     
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