The FDA approved a new technology this week that promises to give limited vision to people who are blind. The technology the FDA has approved is called the artificial retina. It allows people with certain types of blindness to be able to detect crosswalks, people, cars, and some can detect large letters or numbers.
FDA approval for the system marks a new point in the field of vision research promising to help restore sight to some people who are blind. The artificial retina is a sheet of electrodes that is implanted into the person's eye. The patient is also fitted with glasses that feature an integrated camera and a portable video processor.
The entire system is known as Argus II and allows visual signals to bypass the damage portion of the retina in be transferred directly to the brain. The artificial retina doesn't allow the blind to see in the conventional sense that most of us are used to. It does give those fitted with the system the ability to identify outlines and boundaries of objects. It is said to be particularly effective when there is high contrast between light and dark areas.
The Argus II is made by a company called Second Site Medical Products and is specifically designed to treat people with severe retinitis pigmentosa. People with this condition have deteriorated photoreceptor cells in the eye that are meant to take in light. About 100,000 Americans are believed to suffer from this medical condition and somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 are expected to qualify for the Argus II system. To qualify people have to be over 25 and had previously useful vision. The system will cost about $150,000 not counting surgery and training and it remains unclear if insurance companies will cover the system.