October 14, 2004.
Stanley Boben has macular degeneration. Millions of Americans have the condition.
Macular degeneration is the most common cause of age related blindness. As baby boomers age, more Americans will develop the condition. Now, new technology that's coming of age may help save their sight.
Stanley Boben, 84, said, "When I look at somebody, and look in their face, I can't distinguish any of their facial features."
To Boben the outside world looks bright but the center goes dark.
“It's just like a haze or a cloud in front of your face."
He's among a million Americans with macular degeneration. It destroys retinal cells in the back of the eye called rods and cones. They help other cells turn reflected light into shapes and images.
At Stanford University, Dr. Harvey Fishman hopes to perfect implanted microchips to restore lost vision.
"What we're doing with our chip is we're trying to basically substitute for the rods and cones that get destroyed."
The technology works like a smart seltzer bottle. When the chip senses light, it signals tiny spouts to squirt neurotransmitters, chemicals that instruct other cells what to do.
"And what you're looking at is the cell body and this whole process lighting up in response to neurotransmitters being squirted," Dr. Fishman said.
The chip's chemical supply might last 150 years. But it may be at least five years before the first human clinical trials. For now, the only options are therapies like light sensitive drugs, the reason Stanley wears sunglasses.
"People are going to be living longer because we have tremendous technology for the heart, for the brain, and we would hate for people to be in a scenario where everything is working, but they can't see," Dr. Fishman explained.
Retinal chips may help 50,000 people a year see a bright, clear world.
Dr. Fishman said the technology may lead to smart drug chips to treat not just eye disease, but also neuro-degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
Helpful Links on macular degeneration:
Copyright © 2004 TWEAN d.b.a. News 14 Carolina.
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