Lighthouse International is participating in an exciting research project that holds great promise for helping people who are blind to see. It is the only FDA-approved, long-term clinical trial of its kind to determine the effectiveness of a new retinal prosthesis — and it is already yielding promising results. We’re not the only ones sharing the great news; CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported the story, as did The New York Times.
This prosthetic is a breakthrough in enhancing the vision — and life — of people with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) … people like Barbara Campbell.
Barbara, now 56, was diagnosed with RP, a congenital disease, when she was just 13. RP causes the degeneration of the photoreceptor cells in the retina and progressive vision loss. “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t seeing the same as everybody else,” Barbara says, until a teacher called her parents to say she was having difficulty in school. As her sight deteriorated over time, Barbara learned to adapt to seeing everything as a “gray, foggy haze.”
Today, Barbara is seeing the world much more clearly — she’s seeing it through a “bionic eye.” In June of last year, Barbara became the first patient in New York City to receive an artificial implant — a microchip as thin as a strand of human hair — studded with electrodes to stimulate the retina and transmit visual signals to the brain through neural pathways. A miniature video camera, which is mounted on sunglasses, captures the images. It is operated by a wireless processor worn around the waist. This amazing device, which opens the door to restoring vision for people with RP, was developed as the ArgusTM II Retinal Stimulation System by Second Sight Medical Products of Sylmar, CA.
“With this system, people who are functionally blind might begin to distinguish light from dark, recognize visual patterns, make out figures, see food on a plate and navigate in unfamiliar surroundings,” says Lucian Del Priore, MD, who surgically implanted the device in Barbara’s left eye at New York Presbyterian Hospital. “In its current form, the device won’t restore full visual function,” he explains, “but if it dramatically reduces a patient’s disability — that is a major advance.”
Rehabilitation: The Linchpin to Success
Barbara, who is one of only 14 US patients to receive the implant, is receiving all-important follow-up rehabilitation at the Lighthouse. While the prosthetic is an amazing piece of technology, patients can only succeed in using it with the help of proper training — and a personal commitment to practice, which Barbara has demonstrated. It might take years for patients to fully retrain their eyes and brains to accept images transmitted through this device, but Barbara is determined.
Aries Arditi, PhD, Senior Fellow in Vision Science at the Lighthouse Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute, has been testing Barbara’s visual function and training her to use the device. He is the principal investigator at the Lighthouse in the three-year project designed to study the implant’s effectiveness and assess which training techniques work best.
They began working together only a week after surgery and, when interviewed by the media three months later, Dr. Arditi said, “Barbara has made significant progress, but relearning takes time. While we still have a long way to go, and the process is slow, the findings so far have been extremely positive. With practice, Barbara is now able to detect light, as well as some objects and their motion. In the future, we hope that making the most of the rudimentary vision the prosthesis gives her, she will be able to more easily navigate both indoors and on the street, and visually perform other important activities of daily living.”
Barbara told the press, “For the first time in 15 years, I can see the welcoming light from the doorway of my building. It is an indescribable and amazing feeling! As I become more proficient and get more visual cues, I believe I will gain new skills, and a greater sense of independence and self-confidence. I feel like I am stepping into the future.”
A Scientific Milestone
“This project helps transform people from being blind to having low vision. Until now, we’ve seen people with vision problems experience only progressive vision loss. The good news is that now we can take a person who is totally blind and reverse this process so that he or she has at least some limited vision,” says Dr. Arditi. “This is the first time in history we’ve been able to do that.”
The Argus II is the second generation of retinal implants, with 60 electrodes, replacing the 16 used in its predecessor. Second Sight will soon seek federal approval to market the version Barbara has. On the drawing board are versions with over 200 and 1,000 electrodes, which might provide higher resolution for patients in the future. There are an estimated 200,000 Americans with RP, and millions more with other retinal diseases, who may be able to benefit as this exciting technology continues to advance.
Today, Barbara can see in black and white. She hopes to see color one day. When she does, Barbara plans on heading straight for the Grand Canyon!
(Original article courtesy of Lighthouse International)