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Successful Trial For Implant Designed To Fight Blindness

November 3, 2010

A new implant designed to help the blind has allowed three test patients to see the shapes of objects just days after they were fitted with the device, research published in the British scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B has revealed.

The implants, which were developed by engineers at German’s University of Tuebingen and medical technology firm Retina Implant AG, represent “an unprecedented advance in electronic visual prostheses” and could “eventually revolutionize the lives of up to 200,000 people worldwide who suffer from blindness” as a result of a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, the authors of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B wrote in comments reprinted by AFP on Wednesday.

According to AFP, the retinal implant was tested on 11 patients. Of those, three were able to make out shapes. One was able to walk around a room, read a clock face, and even distinguish between different shades of grey. BBC News adds that one patient was even able to make out letters used to “misspell his own name.” All of these breakthroughs came a reported seven to nine days after the subjects received the implants, various media outlets reported.

In a telephone interview with Kate Kelland of Reuters, Eberhart Zrenner, the chairman of the University of Tuebingen’s Eye Hospital and director of Retinal Implant AG, called the results of the trial “proof of concept” and said that they illustrated that the implants can provide people “with enough useful vision for daily life.” He also told Kelland that the company now planned to expand the trials to include somewhere between 25 and 50 total patients throughout Europe.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) MedlinePlus website, retinitis pigmentosa is an eye disease which damages the layer of tissue located in the back of the inner eye, damaging the optical receptor’s ability to convert light images to nerve signals and sent them to the brain. It typically is an inherited genetic defect, and symptoms include decreased night or low-light vision and loss of peripheral vision. The condition affects one in every 4,000 Americans, according to the NIH.

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