Duke among first in nation to offer bionic eye to severely blind
Posted July 10, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Duke University Hospital has been chosen as one of the first sites in the nation to offer a bionic eye to severely blind patients.
The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, developed by the company Second Sight, is the result of more than 20 years of research and development to restore some functional vision to patients with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa.
"(Retinitis pigmentosa) is a specific inherited retinal degeneration that results in damage to the circuitry of the retina," said Dr. Paul Hahn, a retinal opthamologist at Duke.
It affects about one in 3,000 Americans.
The company chose 13 sites, including Duke, after a rigorous selection process to offer the Argus II, approved by the FDA last February, to people with severe vision loss. Duke estimated having 10,000 patients who might be eligible for the device.
Hahn said the key element of the bionic eye is implanted around the eyeball, with a microarray of 60 electrodes inside, stimulating a part of the retina that is still intact. Dark glasses worn on the face contain a miniature camera.
"That camera sends a signal to something called a video processing unit, which is essentially a mini-computer," Hahn said.
That computer – word around the belt – sends a wireless signal to the implant on the eye, relaying a signal to the optic nerve and vision center of the brain. Intensive training will help the patient's brain interpret the high-contrast images, which may help them recognize open doors or identify their toothbrush and toothpaste in a bathroom, for example.
"It's not giving them the ability to read the newspaper, but it is giving them the ability to function and live independently," Hahn said.