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March 30, 2015

Blind People Are Seeing Again Thanks to Bionic Eyes, And It's Not Even a Story Any More

This isn't entirely new, as people have been receiving bionic eyes for eight years. But only seven people received implants as of last October.

The technology is maturing, and more and more people are now getting the implants. It's becoming an everyday thing now -- news outfits are running stories about the newest blind man whose sight has been returned, but not big, huge stories.

The implant does not cure all forms of blindness, just those caused a by a specific syndrome. And the vision conferred is not very detailed; light and shapes only. Not even fine enough detail to make out the features of a human face.

But once you can do the basics of it, you can do the fine details of it.

The company making these implants is called Second Sight.

Second Sight Medical Products Inc. designs, makes and sells the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, which gives sight to the blind. And sales of the "bionic eye" are on the rise.

Argus II is a prosthetic retina for people with a disease called retinitis pigmentosa. The device looks like futuristic sunglasses paired with a small box, which contains the brains of the device -- a video processing unit.

A miniature video camera captures an image and then transmits that image to the video processing unit, which then sends it to electrodes implanted in a patient's retina using a surgical procedure.

Argus II does not restore normal vision. But it does allow the wearer to see light and shapes, sometimes for the first time in decades.

More than 100 patients have received the Argus II, with 15 systems implanted during the last three months of 2014, the most of any quarter. The earliest recipients have had the implants for nearly eight years.

One patient received his implants last October; there's the obligatory video of him seeing for the first time in over 30 years.

It seems like the stuff of science fiction. But for Larry Hester, this is an eye-opening change for the rest of his life.

[H]e's spent much of his adult life living in complete darkness -- but not anymore. On Oct. 1, Hester became the seventh person in the U.S. to receive an implantable Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Device, also known as the bionic eye. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device in February 2013 for people with rare, degenerative eye diseases.


"The light is so basic and probably wouldn't have significance for anybody else, but to me it's meaning I can see light and we can go from here," Hester said shortly after trying out his new glasses for the first time.

Heres' another video of him Freaking Out! (in a good way) upon seeing the outlines of his wife's face.

This People story talks about his trip to New York City earlier this year, seeing the lights of Broadway.

Duluth pastor just got the implants (another video of him seeing for the first time in a decade), as has a Hawaiian woman, and a Minneapolis man too.

They just started implanting them in patients in Italy and France as well.

It's not cheap -- the device itself (and just the device) costs $144,000.

Kind of a happy story. I imagine if you're not blind at the moment, you probably won't have to worry about ever actually going blind. Seems like this is on the way to the "cured" state.

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posted by Ace at 05:13 PM

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