We’ve covered retinal implants in the past, including products from Retinal Implant AG. The company recently participated in a clinical trial with a patient at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital in England, which has produced amazing results.
The adult patient was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when she was only five years old. The disease destroys the light-sensing cells of the retina at the back of the eye, but the optic nerve remains intact and functional. The device implants a matrix of light-sensitive sensors on a 3 mm square chip. The sensors directly stimulate the optic nerve. A wireless controller allows the patient to adjust the output of the sensors for contrast and sensitivity. After the implant is in place, the patient has to relearn how to interpret the stimuli that the brain senses. In this case, the woman was soon able to see a clock face and correctly tell the time for the first time in more than six years.
The prior version of this chip had 1,500 sensors, but the chip used in this trial increased the count to 1,600 pixels. The resolution is a tiny fraction of what you get with a typical smartphone’s camera, but it is sufficient to recognize faces and common objects. This research is progressing rapidly, giving hope that many people may be able to recover at least a portion of their sight through such bionic devices.