Doctors at the University of Southern California have developed a device that can help the blind see again. In much the same way that a cochlear implant can help deaf people hear, the Argus II directly stimulates the retina nerves at the back of the eyeball using an implanted electrode array. Marketed by Second Sight Medical Products, the device received FDA approval last year for patients 25 years old and older who have degenerative retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
The system relies on a digital camera mounted on a pair of glasses to produce an image. This is transmitted by a wire to a controller worn on the patient’s belt. The processed image is then sent back to the glasses where a transmitter sends the signal wirelessly to an antenna wrapped around the bottom of the eyeball. Another controller then sends this signal to an array of electrodes, which directly stimulate the retina using small electrical currents. The patient can learn to interpret these inputs as “images.”
The current design only has an array of 60 electrodes, resulting in low-resolution image but this can be sufficient to help a patient detect edges or differences in contrast, which can be enough to avoid obstacles or identify an object. The device has received FDA approval and is also approved by the European Union. There are 12 centers in the U.S. that are currently accepting consultations for patients.