Blind World

Implants may enable blind to see.

April 28, 2003.

By Rachel Davis,
University Wire.

Norman, Oklahoma.

A new technology known as retinal implants is helping the blind to make out shapes and colors. Scientists hope that in 10 years the implants will enable patients to regain the majority of their sight.

Doctors and scientists have teamed up to develop this technology, known as the Retinal Implant Project.

Natalie Linendoll, a member of the Retinal Implant Project, is trying to perfect a device to restore some vision to patients with retinal disease. The device is placed on top of the retina.

Two silicon microchips are used, according to the retinal project.

"The first is a tiny solar battery which receives light from a miniature laser mounted on a pair of glasses," Linendoll said. "One purpose of the battery is to provide electric power to the implant. The other purpose is to provide encoded vision of a visual scene in front of the patient."

The first chip converts information to an electronic code.

"The function of the second chip is to decode picture information carried by a laser beam and transmit the information to retina cells," Linendoll said. A second device being developed is located on the bottom of the retina.

Composed of a chip consisting of tiny electrodes powered by microscopic solar cells, the chip produces a visual signal processed by retinal cells and sent to the brain.

The implant can only stay in the eye for 45 minutes.

"The reason people are not volunteering to have the research performed is because it only gives a slim chance of seeing," Joe Meacham, an assistive technology professional a Progressive Independence in Norman, said. "I wouldn't have it done."

Progressive Independence works with people who have disabilities and tries to help them live an independent life without the aid of invasive technology.

Meacham said the retinal implant is nothing more than "pie in the sky."

"My concern is the possible rejection of the body to the chip. The chip could be perceived as a foreign invader," Meacham said. "In the long run it will cause more damage than good."

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