Artificial Retina

Mark S Humayun, MD, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Engineering
Doheney Eye Institute
University of Southern California

Full Transcript

Narrator: Kathy Blake is one of 32 people participating in a study, at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California, to validate a device that will provide artificial sight to legally blind people.

Kathy: The vision that I have now is really nothing. I don’t really see any shapes, or movement or shadows. I really cannot see anything.

Narrator: Kathy received an artificial retina. First, electrodes are surgically implanted on the surface of the macular region of the retina. A tiny camera mounted on eye glasses sends the light signals to a mini-computer worn on the person’s belt. From there, the signal is passed to the electrodes in the eye. The controlled electrical signal excites the remaining retinal neurons which send impulses via the optic nerve to the brain where it is processed into a visual image.

Mark Humayun: The photoreceptors or the rods and cones can all be damaged, but some of the remaining retina has to be intact, not all of it, but some needs to be there for the device to electrically stimulate and send the signals, via the optic nerve to the brain.

Narrator: Further miniaturization will allow for an increase from the current 60 to 1,000 electrodes to be implanted. This will permit facial recognition and good reading ability.

Kathy: After the surgery I was really surprised that I really can’t feel any hardware in my eye at all. There’s a lot of hardware in there and I can’t feel anything, its very comfortable.

Narrator: This is the pixilated image that Kathy sees through the camera on her glasses. Work is currently under development to implant a camera in the eye. It is hoped that the current 60 electrode device will be marketed in Europe very soon and shortly thereafter in the U.S. Allowing more remarkable scenes like this. Kathy is about to see numbers for the first time since becoming blind more than 30 years ago.

Mark Humayun: The artificial retina is a multi-disciplinary, long-term, high-risk type of project. But it also has a high payoff. By that I mean a payoff to help so many people worldwide for whom there is no foreseeable cure.