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"Vision Realized" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted market approval to an artificial retina technology, the first bionic eye to be approved for patients in the U.S.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Roulette wheel) Eye on the prize.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Although there are some treatments that slow the progression of degenerative diseases of the retina, no treatment can replace the function of lost photoreceptors in the eye, and stop patients from ultimately going blind. Several decades ago, researchers began to ask: Could parts of the damaged eye be replaced with an electronic implant and could such an implant send signals through the patient's optic nerve, that the brain would interpret visually?

Early exploratory work showed promise, and scientists and engineers devoted nearly twenty years to developing the system, with public and private funding, including from the National Science Foundation.

The result: A vision realized in the Argus II, the first FDA-approved bionic eye--now available for people blinded by retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which affects one in 4000 Americans.

A camera system built into a pair of glasses streams video to a belt-worn computer, which converts the video into stimulus commands, and transmits them to the implant in the eye a multi-pixel array--that stimulates the retina with small electrical pulses.

Already, improved systems are in development, but for those with RP, Argus II offers the ability to discern shapes--a level of visual perception that could enhance their quality of life. All thanks to the early vision and dedication of people who truly had--an eye for the future.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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