DOE Artificial Retina Project Reaches First Major Milestone


As part of an FDA Investigational Device Exemption trial, the goal of implanting 6 blind patients with a 16 electrode Model 1 artificial retina device was achieved in June 2004. The first patient has had the retinal implant since February 2002. All patients can successfully use the retinal implant which consists of a miniature video camera attached to a pair of glasses and a pocket size visual processing unit. The visual processing unit digitizes and processes the image and then wirelessly sends both power and data to the surgically implanted retinal implant which in turn then sends small controlled electrical pulses to the otherwise blind retina allowing the blind patients to see. Even though testing is still on going, results have shown that as few as 16 microelectrodes (each microelectrode producing a pixel of light) allows patients to be able to read large letters (2 foot large letters one foot away) as well as differentiate between a paper cup from a plate from a plastic knife. Patients also see colors although at present the control over color perception is not fully understood and reproducible. Future studies in these patients include using the retinal implant outside the laboratory setting as well as allowing patients to use the device alone at home. The Artificial Retina Project has already developed a next generation Model 2 (60 electrode) device that has the potential for increasing the number of pixels of light by 4 times. The design and fabrication of the Model 2 device is currently undergoing preclinical testing in dogs and if results are successful, will be scheduled to be used in a clinical trial in 2005. The basic science research is supported by BER Medical Sciences Division and the National Institutes of Health supports the clinical studies.