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Retinal Implants: Helping the Blind to See 
 
by Mark R. Whittington September 27, 2005

On the Horizon

The FDA is now examining a second generation retina implant device for approval for human trials. It will be one fifth of the size of the current device, has sixty electrodes, and will take ninety minutes to implant as opposed to six hours it takes to implant the first generation device. The second generation implant is envisioned as being the first commercially available retinal implant.

Further on the horizon, researchers at the Doheny Eye Institute envision a third generation implant that will permit the patient to be able to read and recognize faces, in effect restoring functional eyesight to the blind. This device will have to be made of more sophisticated materials than the silicon/platinum now used in the first generation device. It will have 1000 electrodes. New implantation techniques will have to be developed to accurately align the electrodes of the device with the retina cells that need to be stimulated. The digital camera will be actually in the implant, relieving the patient of having to wear special eye glasses.

It is impossible to predict exactly one the third generation retina implant will be available for general use. More research and development remains before they are even available for human trials. And government bureaucracies like the Food and Drug Administration have their own schedule in approving new medical devices. Even so, researchers are confident that sooner or later, many people who are blind will be able to see again thanks to retinal implants.

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