New eyesight for the blind thanks to the retina chip

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New retinal chip hope for the blind

New eyesight for blind people thanks to implanted retina chip: The new chip lets blind people see An electronic chip under the retina lets blind people see again. In a pilot study, researchers from Tübingen led by specialist Eberhart Zrenner transplanted three blind patients under the retina with a photodiode chip. The microchip replaces destroyed sensory cells so that all three study participants were once again able to perceive light in certain shapes and patterns.

Microchip under the retina Scientists at the University of Tübingen have been researching a retinal implant for 15 years that blind people return their eyesight. The process, which has now been tested on humans for the first time in the pilot study, was viewed as a complete success when the results were published in the journal "Proceedings ofthe Royal Society B". With the help of the microchip implanted under the retina, the blind study participants could perceive light impulses and thus recognize the various objects on a table.

Blind patient could read his name
In the Finnish patient Miikka, the microchip was used directly under the "yellow spot", the area of ​​the human retina with the highest density of visual cells, and is the most successful here. Not only was he able to locate, distinguish and describe simple objects such as apples, bananas, forks and spoons on a table, but he was also effortlessly able to orientate himself in a room, could distinguish between seven different shades of gray, that Read the face of a watch, recognize 16 letters and read his own name. From the medical point of view, this is an enormous success, because Miikka suffers from the inherited disease retinitis pigmentosa as a result of the rods and cones on the retina dying off and retinal degeneration being triggered. In the final stage of the disease, the patients go completely blind.

Hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa
Experts estimate that around 3 million people worldwide are affected by retinitis pigmentosa. According to the professional association of ophthalmologists, 30,000 to 40,000 suffer from the hereditary retinal disease in Germany. The first symptoms usually appear already in adolescence or in the middle years and the eyesight gradually deteriorates, sometimes over the course of decades, more and more, until the person completely blind. Eleven percent of all blind people suffer from the inherited disease retinitis pigmentosa. There are no cures so far, but the procedure now being tested with the implanted microchip is raising hope.

Retina chip generates 1,500 pixels
The Tübingen researchers are trying to replace the destroyed cells with technology. The wafer-thin electronic chip, three by three millimeters in size, is planted directly behind the retina, takes on the function of the cones and rods and converts light arriving on the retina of the eye into electrical impulses, which the chip amplifies as stimuli on the retina. The power is supplied by a battery located behind the ear, which is connected to the chip by a thin cable running under the skin. The microchip itself consists of 1,500 photodiodes that generate 1,500 pixels on the retina in the event of light impulses with the aid of an electrical amplifier, which are then transmitted from the optic nerve to the visual center of the brain like the healthy eye.

The chip took over the function of the dead cones and stitches so well that "the patients (...) could see sunflowers, contrails in the sky, their friends' teeth when they smiled," emphasized study leader Eberhart Zrenner to "FOCUS Online". However, since the basics for processing the optic nerve information must already be available in the brain, the microchip is only suitable for patients who could see in the past. If you are blind from birth, the new procedure will not help either.

"Follow-up study" started: approval possibly already in 2011
A total of eleven chip transplants of this type have already been carried out by the experts led by Eberhart Zrenner. The chip has always been removed after three months of operation, since it was not designed for continuous operation and possible long-term consequences were feared. Since May 2010, however, a Europe-wide follow-up study has been carried out with a revised system that is completely under the skin and has already been implanted in four patients. Those affected should wear the device for at least two years, ideally indefinitely. 25 patients will be examined as part of the follow-up study, whereby Walter Wrobel, CEO of the company "Retina Implant", which produces the implant, assumes that the results will be available by 2011 and that the procedure will be approved by the end of 2011 is achievable.

Treatment costs of 70,000 - 80,000 euros
In order to be able to assess the long-term success of retinal chip transplantation, the researchers will continue to monitor and examine all patients who have already been successfully treated. According to the experts, the new microchip process could also help with other eye diseases such as choroid disease and cone-rod dystrophy. "We can show that the visual functions in people with retinal disorder can be restored as far as is necessary for everyday life," emphasized Zrenner. Finally, there is only the question of the cost of such treatment 70,000 to 80,000 euros are given, although such treatment costs will hardly be affordable for most of them out of their own pockets and it has not yet been clarified whether the health insurance companies will pay for them, so the sentence of the "Retina Implant" CEO: "Every year in Germany goes blind in 2000 People who could be helped by the implant ", only to a limited extent as long as the health insurance companies do not clearly commit to assuming costs. (Fp, 03.11.2010)

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