Next to the weather, sports and current events, the future is a frequent conversation topic. After all, who hasn’t heard that in the future there will be:
Bionic body parts
Well, there are electric cars on the road, there are robots working in manufacturing and there are bionic body parts. As for bionic body parts, there are still some bugs to work out. Yet, there is the one bionic prosthesis that is working very well and that is the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System. This is a prosthetic system that allows persons with severe retinitis pigmentosa to see patterns of light or as one person who had system implanted said it is a “…pulsing light, it’s not like regular vision where it’s constant. I’ve got to be able to interpret the changes in that shape.”
With the Argus®, images are captured on a small video camera that is part of the glasses that the patient wears. The video is then sent to a video processing unit, where it is processed and transformed and sent to the glasses through a cable. The information is then transmitted wirelessly to an antenna in the retinal implant. The signals are sent to an electrode array that sends pulses of electricity to the retina. These pulses bypass the damaged part of the retina and work with the remaining photoreceptors. These impulses are then transmitted to the optic nerve and then the brain.
While people don’t see full images, seeing patterns of light is an improvement over blurs or darkness. In fact a study was reported in Clinical and Experimental Optometry that persons with the Argus® system showed in improvement in visual hands-on tasks. Twenty-six blind patients who had the system were evaluated with the Functional Low Vision Observer Rated Assessment (FLORA) for three years. The persons completed 35 tasks, both with the device on and off, and they showed improvement in 24 out of the 35 tasks. In particular, when the task utilized light projections and contrast to identify things, the biggest improvement was shown when the device was turned on.
In addition, what makes the Argus® different over other implants are an external processing unit and software that allow for upgrades in the future, minimal time from implantation to use at home and the use of audible signals that provide information on functionality.
While the images generated from the Argus® are pixilated, the person can learn what those flashes of light can mean and that can help them to navigate the world around them. The future is getting brighter for the visually impaired thanks to devices like the Argus®.