Blind World Magazine

And Now, a Wireless Retina Implant.

October 05, 2005.
Wireless Healthcare News (UK)

The use of wireless in healthcare goes well beyond basic applications such as tagging and eprescribing and a Swiss based company, IMI, are set to trial a 231-electrode learning retinal implant.

Previously, the most complex retinal implant tested in humans was a 16-electrode array. "We are clearly the global frontrunner for learning retinal implants, which we expect will make it possible for persons who have been blinded by retinal degenerative diseases, such as Retinitis Pigmentosa, to restore some of their lost sight."Stephan Rietiker, Executive Board Member and CEO of Intelligent Medical Implants AG ("IMI") , a neuro-prosthetics device company, announced that it has completed development of its first-generation Learning Retinal Implant System, containing a 50-electrode device, and will commence a clinical study of this device in the fourth quarter of this year at the University of Hamburg (Germany) Medical School under principal investigator Dr. Gisbert Richard, Professor of Ophthalmology. IMI also expects to announce preliminary results of this groundbreaking clinical study in the fourth quarter of this year.

In a previous multi-site European clinical study performed with a single-IMI-electrode protocol, independent researchers reported that 19 of 20 totally blind persons (95%) were able to see a small point of light. "These blind persons had no visual perception whatsoever, yet nearly all of them were able to 'see' with the stimulation of our single electrode,"said Stephan Rietiker, M.D., Executive Board Member and CEO of Intelligent Medical Implants.

"Given that the retinal implants of other groups are based on cochlear implant technology - a totally different approach that increases the risk of complications - and given that our first-generation implant is already more than three times more powerful than the competition's, we are confident that IMI is now the runaway leader in the race to develop the world's first commercially available artificial vision implant," added Dr. Rietiker. "Our initial target market is blind persons with RP, one of the two most common causes of vision loss in persons over the age of 50 by hereditary degenerative retinal diseases. RP is considered irreversible and no treatment or cure is known to date. Several million people are affected worldwide," added Dr. Rietiker. "We expect our Learning Retinal Implant System will allow these patients to 'see' objects by identifying their size, their position and their movements and shapes. In short, a previously blind person, using our retinal implant, is expected to be able to move independently in an unknown environment without the need for a guide dog or cane. Certainly, development of a wireless visual prosthesis that can be implanted permanently with good results would represent a gigantic leap forward for the field of artificial vision."

IMI's Learning Retinal Implant System replaces the signal-processing functions of a healthy retina and provides input to the retinal nerve cells (the ganglion cells) that, in turn, provide input to the optic nerve and the brain. The system comprises three main components; the implant, an interface and a pocket processor.

The implant or retinal stimulator, which is surgically placed into the eye of a patient, who wears a pair of spectacles containing an integrated mini-camera and transmitter components for wireless signal and energy transmission forming the visual interface.

Via a cable, the spectacles are connected to a pocket processor worn at the patient's waist. This device replaces the information processing function of the formally healthy retina. The use of a high-speed digital signal processor allows the provision of "intelligent information" to the implant (and the nerve cells) by using tuneable software to approximate the information processing normally carried out by the healthy retina.

The entire process enables patients to optimise their visual perception during the learning phase. Indeed, using the patient's feedback on perception as an input for the tuning of The Pocket Processor is the unique, patent-protected feature of the System and constitutes the 'learning' capability of the Learning Retinal Implant System.

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