Health Team

Artificial retina gives sight to the blind

Doctors are calling an artificial retina that partially restores eyesight a breakthrough for the blind.

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Doctors are calling an artificial retina that partially restores eyesight a breakthrough for the blind.

Dean Lloyd, of California, joined a clinical trial for the artificial retina in hopes of curing the blindness that kept him from seeing his daughter grow up.

"I was 3 when my dad lost most of his vision, so I've never known my dad to be sighted," his daughter, Lisa Lloyd, said.

Retinal degeneration caused David Lloyd to lose his sight in his 30s. After getting an artificial retina implanted in his eye, though, he can make out shapes, and he can tell light from dark.

"I was totally blind for 17 years, so the brain has to relearn to see," he said.

The artificial retina communicates with a tiny video camera mounted in a pair of glasses. A transmitter in the glasses sends the images to a chip implanted on the back of the damaged eye. There, 60 electrodes send the image along the optic nerve straight to the brain.

"It is a huge leap forward for people who have lost all their vision and aren't able to see anything at all," said Dr. Jacque Duncan, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco.

The artificial retina is only for people who used to be able to see. It recently received approval in Europe, and the company that makes the device plans to apply for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this year.

The system costs around $100,000, in addition to the cost of surgery. The company is working to get insurers to cover the expense.

Lisa Lloyd hopes the new technology can one day help her, since her father's disease is hereditary. She has lost night vision and has a 50-50 chance of going completely blind.

In the meantime, she said, her father has set a great example of how to life a full life without sight.

"If you just focus on what you can do and not on what you can't, that leaves a whole world of possibilities," she said.

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