Device offers partial vision for the blind
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The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first artificial retina, an implanted device that replicates some of the function of the retina, helping to restore vision to people blinded with a rare genetic disorder, the agency said Thursday.
The device, made by privately held Second Sight Medical Products Inc of Sylmar, California, is intended to replace the function of light-sensing cells in the retina destroyed by retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative disease that affects about 100,000 people nationwide.
In a healthy eye, the retina, which lines the back of the inner eye, works a bit like film in a camera, converting images that come through the eye's lens into electronic signals that are relayed to the optic nerve in the brain.
To replicate this, the Argus II device consists of special glasses outfitted with a video camera and a video processing unit that sends signals to a wireless receiver implanted in the eye.
Although it does not completely restore vision, the implant helps with daily activities, such as locating objects and recognising large letters and shapes.
"In the patients that have been implanted to date, the improvement in the quality of life has been invaluable," said Mark Humayun of the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine and USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, who helped develop the device.
The Argus II was approved for use in Europe in 2011 and has been implanted in 30 patients in a clinical trial that began in 2007. In October, advisers to the FDA voted unanimously to approve the device.
Brian Mech, vice president of business development at the company, said the system will cost more than $100,000 when it is launched in the United States, sometime this year.
Mech said the company is working with insurance companies and Medicare to win coverage and ease out of pocket expenses for patients.
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