Feds OK First 'Bionic Eye' to Help Blind

Device gives limited vision to those with retinal disease
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 14, 2013 5:10 PM CST
Feds OK First 'Bionic Eye' to Help Blind
This image provided by Second Sight Medical Products shows a new implantable device that takes the place of damaged cells inside the eye.   (AP Photo/ Second Sight Medical ProductsA)

The FDA has approved the first use of an artificial retina or "bionic eye" to give the blind limited vision, reports the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Users wear glasses outfitted with a video camera that transmits visual data to electrodes implanted in the eye; the signals bypass damaged parts of the retina and move along to the brain for processing. It is nowhere near full vision—users might be able to make out the contours of a person or the contrast of a curb from the road, for instance—but as one trial user puts it, “When you don’t have nothing, this is something. It’s a lot.”

The device, called Argus II and made by Second Sight Medical Products in California, won the FDA's blessing to treat those with retinitis pigmentosa. It had already been approved in Europe, and it's hailed as just the start in similar technology. “We have a lot of exciting things sitting in the wings, multiple approaches being developed now," says a top official at the National Eye Institute. The Argus II should be available later this year in the US, but it's pricey—about $100,000, reports Reuters. (Read more bionic eye stories.)

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