Artificial retina gives hope for sight

August 6, 2009 8:32:30 PM PDT
2 Philadelphia eye institutes are taking part in global tests with new technology that could help restore sight to some whose world is now dark.

Michael Adler, of Mantua, N.J. says, "I remember being little, and not being able to see the blackboard."

Adler's vision has been poor since childhood.

And over time, it's dwindled to almost nothing.

Now -

"I can tell if its light outside, or dark outside. But I can't tell much of anything else," he says.

Michael has retinitis pigmentosa - a hereditary disease that slowly destroys the retina - where images form in the eye.

Dr. Carl Regillo, of Wills Eye Institute, says, "They lose more and more side vision over time and eventually they get to the point in some patients they lose their central vision too."

Still Michael adjusted.

"This was my way of life so I didn't know any other way."

To get to work, he takes a bus into center city, walks about a block, following the wall. Then holds up a sign to get a taxi.

His family also helps. Still he says it would be nice to see, and to navigate a bit easier.

And someday soon, that wish may come true.

In late June, Michael became the first in Philadelphia, and one of just 20 in the world, to receive an experimental artificial retina.

As Dr. Regillo looks into Michael's eye, he notes, "Everything looks like it's healing well."

Dr. Regillo says the artificial retina is a tiny panel of electrodes. It was implanted into the back of Michael's eye.

In a month, he'll be fitted with special glasses that include a TV camera.

The camera will send electronic light signals to a receiver attached to the outside of michael's eye.

Those signals will travel through a cable to that tiny panel of electrodes.

Dr. Regillo says, "That, in turn, sends patterns of light down the optic nerve to the vision centers of the brain."

Tests with an earlier version of the retina system show real promise.

Dr. Regillo notes, "There are some patients definitely picking up some images, and being able to maneuver or ambulate with these devices."

The version Michael received has many more electrodes, so it's hoped the images will be stronger and clearer.

He can't wait to begin work with the new glasses.

"Walking my dog it would be nice to see something and walk around it," says Michael.

Trials of the artificial retina are being done locally by Wills Eye Institute and the Scheie Eye Institute.

Dr. Regillo says it will take several years to see how well they work ... For Michael and for other patients.

For more information call the Second Sight Trial Hotline at 818-833-5027.

You can also visit - Second Sight, Artificial Retina Project.

Local trial sites are Wills Eye Institute, and Scheie Eye Institute

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