Blind World

Retinitis Pigmentosa.
Retinitis Pigmentosa Therapy.

January 22, 2004.

Dawn Mercer on sight to the blind.

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."

A doctor diagnosed Connie with retinitis pigmentosa, a potentially blinding eye disease, "He said, 'It may not get worse, but it might,' and it certainly did."

Today Connie is completely blind, "I have no idea what I look like, because I don't remember what I look like."

But, at age 76, she's in a groundbreaking study with Doctor Mark Humayun, an ophthalmologist, "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."

He says an 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, and 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. Doctor Humayun says future research will use more electrodes to detect even more light, "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?"

Right now the implant has 16 electrodes. The next phase of research will include 60 electrodes, and future trials will likely get to 1000. Doctors say with more electrodes patients should be able to see much more definition.

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