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Newly Approved Retinal Implants Can Help Blind People See

The first retinal implants ever approved for use in the U.S. could help with a certain type of blindness

A retina suffering from retinitis pigmentosa (left) and a healthy retina (right). Photo: Christian Hamel / Richard Masoner

A pair of customized glasses house a video camera and a transmitter. An electrode array implanted in the eye passes the electrical signals captured by the camera through to retinal cells. Known the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, this device is the first retinal implant ever cleared for use in the United States, says Scientific American.

The New York Times:

The device allows people with a certain type of blindness to detect crosswalks on the street, the presence of people or cars, and sometimes even large numbers or letters.

…With the artificial retina or retinal prosthesis, a blind person cannot see in the conventional sense, but can identify outlines and boundaries of objects, especially when there is contrast between light and dark — fireworks against a night sky or black socks mixed with white ones.

Now that the device is cleared for use in the U.S., the prothesis’ manufacturers expect to roll it out at a few select hospitals across the country. For those suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a heredity form of eye damage that steadily strips a person of their sight as they age–with severe sight problems usually cropping up in early adulthood—this implant can restore some of the vision they once had.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Blind Woman Sees the Light Thanks to Bionic Eye
This Bionic Man, With Working Machine Organs, Is Pretty Much the Creepiest Thing Ever

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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