Brain implant gives blind new way to see world around them

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Thursday, September 19, 2019
Breakthrough device helping patients regain lost vision
Breakthrough device helping patients regain lost vision: Sarah Bloomquist reports during Action News at 4:30pm on September 19, 2019.

LOS ANGELES (WPVI) -- Researchers are testing a "breakthrough device" to help some people who've gone blind regain some visual perception.

The Orion device, made by Second Sight is implanted directly in the brain. It converts images from a tiny video camera on sunglasses into electric impulses that stimulate the brain's vision receptors.

Users don't have vision as we know it, but they see patterns of light and dark pixels.

Jason Esterhuizen lost his vision in a horrific car accident in his 20s.

He moved from his native South Africa to Los Angeles to take part in the clinical trial at UCLA. Getting some "sight" again was thrilling.

"I still can't put it into words. I mean from being able to see absolutely nothing - it's pitch black, to all of a sudden seeing little flickers of light move around," says Esterhuizen.

He can now do everyday tasks that were impossible before, like sorting laundry or safely crossing the street.

His surgeon, Dr. Nader Pouratian, of UCLA Health says, "This is really the first time that we've had a completely implantable device that people have been able to go home with, use on their own in their own living conditions without having to be plugged into an external device."

So far, 6 people have received the Orion implant: 3 at UCLA Health, and 2 at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

The study is still open to volunteers.

For more information on the UCLA trial, click here.