Microchip Gives Blind Chance of Sight

A computer chip implanted near the eye's retina is well on its way to offering some restored vision to people blinded by eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related degeneration of the eye. The implant works for eye diseases where healthy retinal neurons remain intact after they lose use of the eye's photoreceptors that convert images into electric impulses.

Funded by the Office of Naval Research, researchers recently reported that tests show faces can be recognized and words in large type can be read. Human tests started recently. Dr. Mark Humayun, formerly of the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is leading the research at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

To capture images, first an external camera mounted in an eyeglass frame captures the image and converts it into an electrical signal that is electronically transmitted to the flexible silicon biochip surgically attached near the retina. The chip electronically stimulates the healthy cells of the retina, which sends the signals conveying the image to the brain.

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