Rudimentary Retinal Replacement Devices … Faster, Please

Interesting piece from CBS News about a very basic retinal replacement device that provides rudimentary sight to a woman who went blind from retinal disease. The device includes a camera mounted on the glasses that converts what it sees into electrical impulses sent directly to her optical nerve cells.

The drawbacks? The device costs $100k and at the moment only provides a 60 pixel image. That is still a dramatic improvement over being blind, but a long way from fully restoring sight.

I’m at very high risk of macular degeneration (technically already have early stages of it), and the best hopes are research into the genetic causes of macular degeneration and something like this. I’d hate to wake up 20 years from now and realize all the time spent amassing that huge Internet porn collection went to waste. So please, scientists, kick it up a notch, okay? By the time I’m really going blind I expect the 20gb DDR3 version that plays Duke Nukem VII and digitally removes the clothes from attractive passersby.

Japanese Researchers Claim They Grew Artificial Eye

Researchers at Tokyo University recently reported that they succeeded in growing an artificial eye in tadpoles.

Led by biology professor Makoto Asashima, the researchers said they soaked undifferentiated cells from a frog embryo in a special medium, and then implanted them into a tadpole whose left eye had been removed.

After a week, Asashima reports that the cell was connected to the optic nerve and there was no sign that it had been rejected.

Unfortunately although it garnered a lot of headlines last week, this research has yet to be published or accepted by a peer reviewed journal and as a result it is a bit difficult to figure out exactly what, if anything, these researchers accomplished.


Scientists ‘create artificial eyeball.’ Charles Scanlon, The BBC, January 5, 2002.

Scientists claim to growth artificial eye. Reuters, January 5, 2002.

Medical Researchers Successfully Treat Blindness in Rats with Human Retina Cells

British and American researchers announced in December that they had succeeded in using genetic engineering to restore sight to rats who went blind due to a condition that is the leading cause of sight loss in people over 50 in the Western world.

About 230,000 people are legally blind in the United States due to age-related macular degeneration, and many others have seriously impaired vision due to the disease. The disease is caused by the hardening of the arteries that bring blood to the retina. Deprived of some of the oxygen and nutrients the retina requires, vision in the center of the retina begins to deteriorate. The disease rarely leads to total blindness, but it can leave people with nothing but peripheral vision.

Researchers took genetically engineered human retinal pigment epithelial cells and transplanted them into rats who were born with a genetic predisposition to retinal degeneration. Not only did the cells survive — the first time this sort of cell has been successfully transplanted — but they restored the sight of the rats.

Professor John Greenwood of London’s Institute of Ophthalmology told the BBC,

The transplanting of genetically engineered RPE cells is totally unique. At present, there is no truly effective treatment or cure for age-related macular degeneration. We believe this work represents a tremendous leap forward in our endeavor towards developing a feasible strategy for treating patients with this debilitating disease.


Cell transplant reverses blindness. The BBC, December 17, 2001.