FDA-approved prosthetic eye will help people see


This will not be for everyone who has lost their sight. It is just for adults who suffer from a relatively rare disease called retinitis pigmentosa. It has taken 20 years and $200 million in funding to get here.

It is the first and only treatment for people with this disease but it promises to help a wider group in the future.

Dean Lloyd was one of 30 patients implanted with the device for clinical trials. He worked with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco who had to determine if the implant system would help him see again without the side-effects that would do him more harm than good.

"The experience now in a number of patients has demonstrated that it's safe, and it's well-tolerated and really has been effective in restoring vision to people who have profound vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa," said Dr. Jacque Duncan, an ophthalmologist at UCSF.

The device is made by the Sylmar, California-based company Second Sight. The device uses a tiny camera mounted on a pair of glasses. The device wirelessly sends the video information to a microprocessor that converts the video into electronic signals. Those signals are then transmitted to a receiver on the eye. The pulses travel along the optic nerve to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark.

Patients do have to go through a learning process to interpret what they're seeing and right now the images are limited to large targets with high contrast, like a door.

"It improves their ability to walk around because they can see edges of curbs," Duncan said. "They can see the outline of a person speaking to them. Sometimes they can see stripes on a crosswalk when they're crossing the street."

In addition to UCSF's work on clinical trials, Lawrence Livermore Nationa lLaboratory is where implant materials were developed. Scientists there are still working to improve on it aiming for facial recognition and possibly colors.

Second Sight also hopes to someday help people with age-related macular degeneration, which is a similar disease but affects many more people.

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