First in New York: Bionic technology aims to give sight to woman blinded beginning at age 13

Oct 21, 2009

A 50-year-old New York woman who was diagnosed with a progressive blinding disease at age 13 was implanted with an experimental electronic eye implant that has partially restored her vision. A team led by Dr. Lucian V. Del Priore at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center performed the June 26 surgery -- the first case of its kind in New York.

The first treatment aimed at restoring limited sight in people blinded by retinal disease, it is currently available as part of a multicenter clinical trial.

The implant -- a component of the Argus II Retinal Stimulation System by Second Sight Medical Products Inc., of Sylmar, Calif. -- is designed to stimulate directly. In a healthy eye, photoreceptor cells of the retina receive light and translate it into signals that are sent to the brain via the optic nerve. But in patients with a genetic, blinding disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), these light-processing cells gradually degenerate, leading to severe vision loss or total blindness.

"With this system, people who are functionally blind might begin to distinguish light from dark, recognize visual patterns, make out figures, see food on a plate and navigate in unfamiliar surroundings," says Dr. Del Priore, site principal investigator, professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and an ophthalmologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "In its current form, the device won't restore full visual function -- but if it dramatically reduces a patient's disability, that is a major advance."

Retinitis pigmentosa only affects the outer layer of retinal cells, leaving the inner layers healthy and capable of conducting electricity, Dr. Del Priore explains. Therefore, people with glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, optic nerve disease, or a history of have been excluded from the study, as their level of retinal impairment is likely to be more severe and more generalized. At this point, the device is being tested exclusively in people with RP as part of a clinical trial offered at six sites across the country.

From Video Images to Sight

Argus II and its predecessor, Argus I, have already been implanted to reduce some aspects of vision loss in about 20 patients with RP in the United States. Dr. Del Priore and his surgical team are optimistic about the newest patient's prospects, based on positive results in others who have participated in studies of the system thus far. The device was developed by Second Sight under the lead of Dr. Mark Humayun, who is currently at the University of Southern California. NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia's study coordinator, Elona Gavazi, was instrumental in screening and recruiting patients for the current study.

Argus II comprises three components: the implanted part, which is placed inside the patient's eye; a tiny camera and transmitter, mounted on a pair of sunglasses; and a wireless microprocessor and battery pack, to be worn on a belt. The implant itself contains 60 tiny electrodes that are attached to the retina via a micro-wire roughly the width of a human hair. These administer electrical impulses to retinal cells, allowing the brain to perceive light.

Learning to See Again

Argus II is an innovative technology, Dr. Del Priore continues, but it is the rehabilitation process that will ensure a patient's ability to benefit from the procedure. In fact, without visual training, the patient may not learn to use or accept the images being received.

The intensive phase of rehab takes about six months, he says, but the process can continue for a year or more. Rehabilitation, device training, along with functional assessment of the patient's vision, will take place at Lighthouse International, a leading international non-profit vision rehabilitation and research organization, which is a collaborating institution with NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia in the clinical trial.

At the Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute of Lighthouse International, senior fellow in vision science Aries Arditi, Ph.D., principal investigator of the Lighthouse site, will conduct psychophysical testing of the patient with and without the device to assess her performance of specific visual tasks, such as pattern recognition, aiming the device's camera with head movements, and using the system for orientation and navigation. Dr. Arditi will also help determine which training procedures will allow the patient to make the most of her newly restored, if limited, vision -- insights that can be carried forward for the benefit of future device recipients.

"We are very pleased to be a part of this groundbreaking and exciting research and to be working with such outstanding partners. Our collective work could have a profound effect on the estimated 400,000 Americans with retinitis pigmentosa and other retinal diseases," states Dr. Arditi.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center (news : web)

Explore further: Research points to potential treatment strategy for Fragile X syndrome

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Microchip is helping restore vision to the blind

Jun 24, 2008

Last year, Wentai Liu watched as surgeons implanted a microchip he had designed into the eye of a blind patient. For Liu, a professor of electrical engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at the University of California, ...

Recommended for you

New pain relief targets discovered

4 hours ago

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

Building 'smart' cell-based therapies

5 hours ago

A Northwestern University synthetic biology team has created a new technology for modifying human cells to create programmable therapeutics that could travel the body and selectively target cancer and other ...

Proper stem cell function requires hydrogen sulfide

8 hours ago

Stem cells in bone marrow need to produce hydrogen sulfide in order to properly multiply and form bone tissue, according to a new study from the Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Researchers discover target for treating dengue fever

Two recent papers by a University of Colorado School of Medicine researcher and colleagues may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines for Dengue fever, West Nile virus, Yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and other ...

Our brains are hardwired for language

A groundbreaking study published in PLOS ONE by Prof. Iris Berent of Northeastern University and researchers at Harvard Medical School shows the brains of individual speakers are sensitive to language univer ...

Study recalculates costs of combination vaccines

One of the most popular vaccine brands for children may not be the most cost-effective choice. And doctors may be overlooking some cost factors when choosing vaccines, driving the market toward what is actually a more expensive ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

( —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...