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Friday, April 26, 2013

A Path To Sight For Some Blinded By Hereditary Disease

Eric Selby poses for a photograph in Coventry, England, in February 2011. He's wearing a "sight" camera fitted in a pair of glasses, which works in conjunction with an artificial retina implant called the Argus II fitted in his right eye, enabling him to detect light. (Martin Cleaver/AP)

Eric Selby poses for a photograph in Coventry, England, in February 2011. He’s wearing a “sight” camera fitted in a pair of glasses, which works in conjunction with an artificial retina implant called the Argus II fitted in his right eye, enabling him to detect light. (Martin Cleaver/AP)

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first treatment that gives limited sight to people blinded by a certain hereditary disease.

The device, called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, allows visual signals to bypass the damaged portion of the eye and be directly transported to the brain.

Patients have a sheet of electrodes implanted in their eye, and wear a pair of glasses with a video processor and a camera.

The device is only available for patients who have retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition in which the retina – the part of the eye that converts light images into signals that can be received by the brain – deteriorates.

Second Sight Medical Products, the company that makes the Argus II, told The New York Times its hopes to eventually address all forms of blindness through electrode implantation in various parts of the brain.

Kathy Blake, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her early 20s, participated in the studies of the Argus II and had the device installed a few years ago.

Blake told Here & Now┬áthat even though the sight she regained is limited, she’s very appreciative.

“This is a huge welcome advance for me,” she said. “I often talk about being able to see the fireworks a few years ago. I could look up in the sky and see all the flashes.”

Guest:

  • Kathy Blake, regained limited sight due to the Argus II.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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