Losing one’s sight has profound impact on a person’s life, not the least of which is a loss of independence and mobility. Many researchers are working on ways to restore vision, using strategies ranging from replacement implants for damaged retinas to direct stimulation of the brain.
Second Sight Medical Products has created the Argus II, which is a prosthetic retina replacement. The company has also developed a new product, Orion, which they describe as a “visual cortical prosthesis.” The system relies on a camera mounted in a pair of glasses that sends the image signal to a mobile controller. This then processes the images and transmits them wirelessly to an array of electrodes that are implanted on the surface of the subject’s brain. These electrodes stimulate the visual cortex portion of the brain, which the subject can learn to interpret as images. The advantage of the Orion system is that it does not rely on the optic nerve or retina, making it a solution for individuals who have lost their sight completely, including as a result of trauma.
The FDA has given conditional approval for a limited trial of the Orion system with human subjects. The clinical study is approved for two sites to enroll up to a total of five patients. The company has designated the University of California at Los Angeles and Baylor College of Medicine as the two test sites, and hopes to achieve the first patient implant before the end of 2017. This is an important milestone for this new technology, and offers hope that many who have lost their vision may be able to see again.