Researchers and doctors at UC Davis Medical Center have developed what amounts to a tiny telescope, Live Science reports, that has been surgically implanted into a woman’s eye, restoring her vision which she’d lost seven years prior to macular degeneration. Gizmodo says the new invention offers hope to the millions of people the world over who slowly lose their vision to the dreaded condition.
Macular degeneration is where a coating that covers the neurons at the back of the eyeball start to degenerate over time, causing blindness. Why this happens is still unknown, but researchers have found that the degeneration tends to occur in just certain parts of the retina, which as Live Science reports, caused them to wonder about devising a device that could cause light entering the eye to be deflected away from the bad area of the retina, to the parts that had not been harmed. And that, Gizmodo adds, is exactly what the researchers at UC Davis did, and the results oddly enough, resemble a very tiny telescope.
The patient, 89 year old Dorothy Bane, told the press that since the procedure was performed on her eye several months ago, the vision in that eye has steadily improved; so much so that she reports that she can now read again and has resumed water color painting.
Ms. Bane’s doctors at the same press conference said that her brain is still adapting to the implant because it causes her to rely on a new way of interpreting visual information. The implant only allows for direct ahead visual information, which means no peripheral vision. To counteract that, her other eye, which lost the ability to see distance but retains peripheral vision is used. Thus, her brain must constantly switch back and forth between processing the two types of information.
The bio engineers on the project added that the implant works in almost exactly the same way as an ordinary optical telescope. Images are received at one end and are then directed out the other. In this case, the input comes from the lens, and the output is directed onto the part of the retina that has not been damaged. They added that Ms. Bane is the first of what will eventually be fifty people undergoing the procedure. Once that occurs, more research will be conducted with the recipients serving as study cases to discern ways to improve the implant, and once that happens, it will move to the development stage where it will be made available to the general public, a process that is likely to take at least two years.