The what, why and how of health and development

Microchip developed for the blind

A microchip implanted inside the eyes of blind people could help them see again, new research from Germany has shown.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, found the device enabled patients to distinguish letters, hands on a clock and people in a room. It is an advance on previous designs as there is no need for an external attachment to process images.

The chip is for suffers of Retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerate eye disease that causes blindness in over 15 million people. Previous treatment had only maintained vision in the early stages of development but Prof. Dr. Eberhart Zrenner, who led the researchers at University of Tubingen, hopes that long term partial vision could be restored to more people.

“Despite all remaining biological and technological challenges, our results offer hope that restoration of vision in the blind with electronic prostheses is a feasible way to help those who cannot profit from emerging gene therapy,” writes Dr Zremmer in the report, published early November.

The chip works by reacting to natural light hitting the eye’s retina, stimulating electric pulses. Patients can then recognise objects by identifying various levels of light and darkness.

Following these findings, UK trials are planned for early 2011. Dr Dolores Conroy, Research Officer for the leading charity funding eye disease research, Fight for Sight, said she is excited about further improvements.

“We are excited about the further clinical trials planned for the UK and we hope that in time the implant may also bring benefits to people with other retinal diseases including AMD (age-related macular degeneration),” she said.

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