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Macular Degeneration Health Center

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Retinal Implant Restores Some Sight to Blind

Researchers Say Implanted Microchip Allows 3 Patients to Recognize Some Shapes

Larger Study Underway

The device was developed with funding from the German government and Retinal Implant AG, a company Zrenner founded and now directs.

The company is now conducting a two-year study that will include 25 to 50 patients.

Zrenner says if all goes well the retinal implant could be commercially available within three to five years for use in people blinded by a genetic eye condition known as retinitis pigmentosa.

About one in 4,000 people worldwide have the condition and about one in 10 cases of blindness are caused by the hereditary disorder.

The California-based company Second Sight Medical Products is testing a different type of retinal implant that includes a camera and transmitter mounted on special eyeglasses.

In the spring of 2009, the company announced that it had received FDA approval to implant its device in 20 people blinded by retinitis pigmentosa.

Stephen Rose, PhD, who is chief research officer for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, says the excitement surrounding retinal implants is understandable.

“This would represent a great advance for people with no retained vision,” he tells WebMD. “It could provide them with some sight and the promise of much more as the technology advances.”

He is optimistic that such advances will lead to retinal implants that can restore even more functional sight to blind patients, possibly within a decade.

“These people won’t be driving, but they could be able to read with the help of large-print readers, just as people with low vision do today,” he says.

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