It’s a wonderful time we live in, and science makes miracles happen with an amazing regularity. Larry Hester, 66 had been blind for 33 years due to a condition called retinitis pigmentosa. Doctors at the Duke Eye Center surgically implanted an electronic stimulator in his left eye in September, and on October 1, the device was turned on by Dr. Paul Hahn. The heartwarming video shows what followed.
The bionic eye, called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Device has been only recently approved by the FDA. Larry is the seventh person in the United States to receive this implant.
Argus does not restore vision in the classic sense, that is, the patient will not be able to “see” things. He will, however, be able to discern some shapes, and at the very least, be able to walk around without assistance. People with the implant see flashes of light, which are more intense for brighter areas, and lesser for the darker. So, the person can “see” where the window on a wall is, or differentiate between a wall and a door, and so on. For someone who has lost vision, this implant could be very welcome, and very helpful.
The technology behind the system is complex and fascinating. Argus II bypasses the damaged photoreceptors in the eye, and transmits the visual information to the brain, along the optic nerve, where the brain processes the information to understand the patterns of light.
The process starts with a miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses. The video captured by the camera is sent to a small computer, the Visual Processing Unit (VPU) that is worn by the patient. The VPU processes the information, and sends it back to the glasses by means of a cable. Here, the information is transmitted wirelessly to an antenna in the implant, which then forwards it to the brain.
That said, go back and look at the video. Larry’s first reaction is beautiful and heartwarming.