February 14, 2005.
LOS ANGELES -- A space age breakthrough in medicine may help some blind people see.
NBC4 health reporter, Dr. Bruce Hensel, reports the procedure is being done at the University of Southern California, where the first woman to receive a retinal implant -- replacing the screen at the back of her eye with photo electric cells -- is seeing for the first time in decades.
When she was 28 years old, Constance Schoeman lost her sight for what she thought would be forever.
"I have retinitis pigmentosa, which is a deterioration of the retina," Schoeman said.
Schoeman tried out an artificial retina that doctors at USC are using.
"Given that there's so many patients who are blind because the light sensing cells in the retina don't work, we thought of developing a retinal prosthesis," said Dr. Mark Humayan, from USC.
The retina is the lining in the back of the eye that sends visual images to the brain. The prosthesis takes over the job.
"In essence, what this prosthesis does is take a blind person and hook them up to a camera," said Humayan.
The tiny camera, hidden in a pair of glasses, captures visual information. Then sends it through a cable to tiny electrodes implanted behind the ear.
"These electrodes then jump start electrically through tiny pulses the remaining cells in the eye and send this information to the brain," Humayan explained.
Although it's not perfect, it's the first Schoeman has been able to see in years.
"Your eye, my eye has hundreds of millions of light sensing cells and only with 16 little pixels, our patients with the model one, can differentiate between a cup, a plate and a knife," Humayan said.
"Maybe it doesn't sound like a lot to some people, but to me, it sounds like a whole lot," said Schoeman.
Hensel said doctors are currently testing the prosthesis on patients with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.
USC's Doheny Eye Institute can be contacted at (323) 317-9393, or by visiting their Web site at www.usc.edu/hsc/doheny.
Other test sites include the University of California, Santa Cruz and North Carolina State University.
For information on the artificial retina project:
Department of Energy, Office of Medical Sciences Division, www.doemedicalsciences.org
Second Sight, www.2-sight.com
For information on retinal diseases:
American Academy of Ophthalmology, public website, www.medem.com
Foundation Fighting Blindness, www.blindness.org
National Eye Institute, www.nei.nih.gov
Prevent Blindness America, www.preventblindness.org
End of article.
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