Surgeons at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center are among the first in the country to implant artificial retinas in patients with a blinding eye disease to enable them to see objects, light, and people with the help of special glasses.
“We believe the device will help (patients) navigate a little better at home, be more independent, and have the pleasure of seeing things that the rest of us take for granted,” says Dr. Thiran Jayasundera, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the U-M Medical School.
So far, the center — one of 12 in the country to offer the device — has performed the surgery on two different patients with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative and blinding eye disease.
After the retinal prosthesis has been implanted in one eye and the patient has recovered from the surgery, the individual wears glasses equipped with a camera that captures images and converts them into a series of small electrical pulses. The pulses are transmitted to the implant and simulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.
In an earlier clinical study of the device, many participants were able to locate lights and windows, follow lines in a crosswalk, and/or avoid running into things. Some could sort laundry or determine where other people were located in a room, and about half of the subjects were able to read very large letters, about nine inches high.
Linda Schulte, who received the first implant earlier this month, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when she was in her 40s. “I understand that I will not have 20/20 vision and that I won’t be able to distinguish faces. But at least I will be able to know that my grandchildren are running across the yard or walking into my house. That would be a miracle to me,” she says.
To be eligible to receive the retinal prosthesis, individuals must be 25 or older with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa that has progressed to the point of having “bare light” or no light perception in both eyes.