After a decade of research, the U.S. Department of Energy has declared its support for the creation of a first ever retinal prosthesis to be approved in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for blind individuals with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa. The artificial retina, also known as a bionic eye, is officially known as the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System.
The disease retinitis pigmentosa can run in families and affects about one in 4,000 people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The Argus II is mounted in eyeglasses and uses a miniature camera to capture images and wirelessly send the information to a microprocessor. The microprocessor, which is worn on a belt, that converts the data to an electronic signal that is transmited to a receiver on the eye. The pulses then travel to the optic nerve and, ultimately, to the brain. The brain perceives patterns of light and dark spots that corresponds to the electrodes that were stimulated.
Clinical trials showed that the Argus II partially restores the sight of blind people after it is surgically implanted. Patients were able to learn how to successfully identify the location and approximate size of objects and detect the movements of nearby objects and people.
“The development of the artificial retina is just one more example of the unique value of our National Laboratories and research universities,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “While no one can predict a breakthrough before it happens, the investments we’re making in research pay enormous dividends for our economy and improve our lives.”
The Argus II was developed and manufactured by Second Sight Medical Products Inc. in Sylmar, California. A consortium of scientists used advanced technologies that were developed by several of the Department’s National Laboratories.
The announcement was made on February 14, 2013.