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From Eyes Only, Spring 1999 Newsletter
Association for Macular Diseases, Inc.

"After successfully transmitting some electronic images directly to the retinas of 15 blind people ... The team [of researchers], headed by Dr. Mark Humayun [a retinal surgeon and electronic engineer] of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore MD, reports that all 15 patients were able to see spots of light or more complex patterns." (From a report in The New Scientist, a British publication, Nov. 7, 1998.)

The means of transmission is an electronic chip and 25 miniature electrodes, attached to viable nerves behind the eye. These replace the function of the photoreceptor cells (light gathering rods and cones) in the retina that are no longer operational, Dr. Humayun told the Neuro-Prosthetic Workshop at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda MD.

Some of the blind subjects had seen nothing for 40 years. Harold Churchey, 71, totally blind for 15 years from retinitis pigmentosa, was ecstatic at his first glimpse of light. He was also able to distinguish the letter "H." Others could identify a variety of computer- generated letters, numbers and shapes.

This is the latest advance in the study of electronic implants in blind eyes. It is reasonable to expect that the Hopkins team will develop in about five years an electronic device that will provide sight to many blind people. There appears to be no insurmountable obstacle to refining the same technology to enable those with macular degeneration to read again. It may take a fairly long time to achieve the sharp definition needed.

Association for Macular Diseases, Inc.
210 East 64th St
New York, NY 10021
(212) 605-3719

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Date last modified April 24, 1999