Blind World

Artificial Vision.
Giving Sight to the Blind.

December 05, 2003.
Ivanhoe Newswire.


Each year, hundreds of people will be born or become totally blind. Many more will develop age-related macular degeneration and become severely visually impaired. Doctors have been searching for ways to restore sight in the blind for years, and they just may have found one.

Connie Schoeman has felt her way through most of her life. "I was about 28 when I first became aware that I had an eye problem," she tells Ivanhoe. A doctor diagnosed retinitis pigmentosa -- a blinding eye disease. "He said, 'It may not get worse, but it might,' and it certainly did," Schoeman says. Today, she is completely blind. She says, "I have no idea what I look like, because I don't remember what I look like."

Now, at 76, she's in a groundbreaking study with ophthalmologist Mark Humayun, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "My hopes are that we can help patients who are otherwise blind, and if we can help them in the span of the next five to seven years really get this high-resolution imagery, that would be wonderful," Dr. Humayun says.

He says this implant -- an electronic retinal prosthesis -- could restore sight. It stimulates remaining healthy retinal cells to detect light, "The kind of light you see is akin to looking at a scoreboard," he says. "In fact, what we're trying to do is pack more lights into a denser pattern, so you can recognize finer features."

In early research, patients can describe the motion of objects and can tell when lights are turned on or off. Dr. Humayun says future research will use more electrodes to detect even more light.

Schoeman says, "It's really exciting. I feel sort of like Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. Who knows how far this is going to go in the future?"

Currently, the implant has 16 electrodes. The next phase of research will include 60 electrodes, and future trials will likely get to 1,000. Dr. Humayun says with more electrodes, patients should be able to see much more definition.

This article was reported by, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to:

If you would like more information, please contact:

Retina Implant Hotline
Doheny Eye Institute
(323) 317-9393

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