Researcher Creates Bionic Eyes

1 decade 1 year 8 months ago Sunday, April 22 2007 Apr 22, 2007 Sunday, April 22, 2007 9:37:16 PM CDT April 22, 2007 in News

This Your Health with Angie Bailey shows the results are a lot more real than what you may find in a book.

Like all of the senses most of us are lucky enough to be born with, sometimes we might take sight for granted, until it's gone.

Tom Stevens knows what it's like to see."I jumped out of airplanes and I was a ranger and I spent two years in Vietnam."

This retired lieutenant colonel also knows what it's like to have it taken away.  Like one in 3,500 other people worldwide with retinitis dispigmentosa, Stevens became blind later in life.  But there is hope that new technology could help people like Stevens see.

"A good friend here in town was telling me, we're going to have this thing Tom, it's gonna be a new eyeball. You'll be able to see," said Tom Stevens with the National Federation of the Blind. "We're not, I don't think we're much closer to it today 25 years later."

This new invention isn't quite a new eyeball, but technology is closer. A miniature microchip when implanted in the retina, is helping blind cats see.

"The microchip is replacing the photo receptors specifically, those are the rods and the cones that die in the disease that I'm studying specifically," said MU Veterinary Ophthalmologist Kristina Narfstrom.

The micro-chip is smaller than the dimple in a golf ball, which is only about 2 millimeters wide.  This small part could mean the difference between seeing or not.  MU ophthalmologist Kristina Narfstrom says early trials with humans are promising.

"Very good results were shown in these first surgeries that were done, all had improved vision," said Narfstrom.

But, MU ophthalmologist Dean Hainsworth says the sight people may regain is limited. "Can you see if the light's on or off, can you see a shape or a shadow, can you maybe see the doorway so that you don't bump into it when you're walking through it? But that's the level of vision I'd anticipate that may be possible with something like this," said Hainsworth.

Stevens says he's learning the traditional skills, like using braille and a cane. But he knows the surgery might be an option in the future.

Narfstrom chose to work with cats because they have similar eyes to humans.  This means surgeons can use the same techniques on cats as they do on people.

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