[tabi] Bionic Eye News

  • From: <sgreenblatt76@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "TABI" <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 17 Jun 2009 13:33:49 -0400

I heard about this news report that was on NBC last night and I looked up the 
article to pass along to everyone. I followed the link for more information on 
the project and downloaded the PDF file; I've attached it to this message as a 
text file for anyone interested to read further. It's not something that will 
help me personally but I thought there might be some on the list who could be 
in line for such a medical breakthrough. 

Bionic eye sheds light on blindness 
Posted: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 4:48 PM by Daily Nightly Editor

By Robert Bazell, NBC News chief science correspondent

On Tuesday night we'll report on a research project that is literally allowing 
blind people to see again. Even though the project has been in progress for two 
decades, supported by the Department of Energy--first at Johns Hopkins now at 
the University of Southern California--the results have been limited. But given 
the enormous challenges, they are still impressive.  

People who were totally blind could at first perceive dots of light that 
allowed them to avoid bumping into objects. Now, as the system is progressing, 
they can begin to make out the outlines of faces and other large objects.
The system works by taking the signal from a tiny camera on a pair of 
sunglasses, which then runs through wires that are implanted on the surface of 
the retina.  These electrodes stimulate the retinal cells to send signals to 
the brain that are perceived as light. 

You can read about the project in detail including diagrams of how it works 


As Dr. Mark Humyan, the project leader, explained to me, the challenges involve 
both software and hardware.  Even though we often use metaphors of physical 
objects like video cameras and computers to try to understand how body parts 
like eyes and brains work, the "software" code is very different for our body 
than it is for electronics.  Matching the codes has taken almost two decades. 
The hardware problem is that electronics are dry, while our bodies are moist 
and salty. Getting the electric leads to work in the eye is "like throwing a 
cell phone in the ocean," according to Humyan.
For now, the patient must turn so that the camera faces whatever he or she is 
trying to see. But Armand R. Tanguay, Jr., an electronics engineer, has 
designed a tiny video camera that will literally fit into the front lens of the 
eye, allowing the person to just move their eyes to see.
Currently the project treats only people with the blinding condition retinitis 
pigmentosa.  In the future, the researchers  plan to move on to other 
conditions, including macular degeneration. The waiting list for those wishing 
to become research subjects is long, but anyone interested should call: (818) 

More info on "bionic eyes":



What wonderful news of a beginning to allow blindness to be healed. Thank you 
Robert for telling the story. 
Jack (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 6:23 PM)

I wonder if this would work for people who have Septo Optic Dysplasia, where 
the optic nerves are underdeveloped or not present? 
Lisa Reed, Tupper Lake NY (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 7:09 PM)

Is there a possibility that this new procedure could benefit a person with 
mitrochondrial myopathy?  Please excuse me if I have misspelled this condition. 
Mary Ann Strawhun, Moscow Mills, Missouri (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 7:11 PM)

hello. my daughter[Pattie] was born in 1970 the dr.s said her nerves didnot 
develope from the brain to the eye. and that their were like millions of nerves 
inside nerves to the eye. she has been blind since birth. I was just wondering 
if or will their ever be a miracle dr. to figure this out. It would be a 
miracle for us.                 thank's   Pat 
pat walters Fountain , Florida (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 7:27 PM)

My son is 2 years old and have atrophie on the optical nerve (he is blind). He 
also have other neurological problem named "esquizencefalia de labio aberto" on 
the left side of the brain. We have collected the cells when he was born. 

Is there any research that coud help him see? 
Leilane Loureiro, Salvador, Bahia Brazil (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 7:36 PM)

Is this available to the public yet? My mother has macular degeneration & I 
feel like this would help her. She lost her vision 5 years ago. This would 
truely be a miracle. 
Terry Harper, B'ham, Al (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:11 PM)

I am so thankful that people who are blind might have a way to see again i have 
a child who has been blind since birth he has had many eye cornea transplants 
and have failed i am hoping someday he will be able to see more. 
candi sacramento ca (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:11 PM)

I can see that it will not be much help unless someone has a retina intact.  
But I am encouraged that there is a place in California which can deal with 
unusual problems of eye damage.  I hope that they can restore some sight in the 
one eye with a retina, for the 4 year old in Bakersfield, who has this horific 
injury at the hands of his father. 
Elizabeth Scherdt, Lake Oswego , Oregon (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:18 PM)

who ever did this thankyou .retinitis pigmentosa is what i have and been 
dealing with  since 2003 ..what type of cure  In the future, the researchers  
plan to do and will it help me see better in the dark and help my 
colorblindness.I do need a cure 4 me..So how do i  become a research subjects. 
Angela Wiggins,buffalo,new york (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 9:35 PM)

My name is Christine McElwee.  I have a 29 year old daughter who has lost 
almost all her sight due to a rare disease called Erdheim Chester Disease.  I 
would like more information on the Bionic Eye and if there is a chance it could 
help her regain any of her sight. 
Thank you. 
Christine McElwee, Norristown, Pa. (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 10:48 PM)

Great story. I hope blind people can see it on your web site which is not too 
P. Figueroa, Latham, New York (Sent Tuesday, June 16, 2009 11:04 PM)

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Envisioning Sight for THE BLIND

The DOE Artificial Retina Project

Leveraging DOE expertise to enhance

the quality of life for millions

Major advances achieved by researchers 
in the U.S. Department of Energy?s (DOE) 
Artificial Retina Project are beginning 
to offer some hope to millions of people 
blinded by retinal diseases worldwide.

In a breakthrough operation performed 
by project leaders at the Doheny Eye 
Institute (University of Southern 
California) in 2002, doctors threaded 
an electrode-studded array through an 
incision into the eye of a man who had 
been blind for 50 years and tacked it onto 
his damaged retina. Within weeks, the 
77-year-old patient could see patterns of 
light and dark that allowed him to detect 
motion and locate and differentiate 
simple objects. For the first time in half a 
century he could also envision a brighter 
future for himself and others whose lives 
have been devastated by vision loss due 
to retinal disease. 

The bold plan for the project is to build 
on this foundational work by using 
revolutionary technologies developed at 
the DOE national laboratories to create 
a vastly improved implantable retinal 
prosthesis. The ultimate goal is to restore 
unaided mobility, reading vision, and 
facial recognition to people with retinitis 
pigmentosa (RP) and age-related 
macular degeneration (AMD). 

A Heavy Toll

RP and AMD destroy the light-sensing 
cells (photoreceptors) in the retina, 
a multilayered membrane located at 
the back of the eye. Unfortunately, 
these cells do a poor job of repairing 
themselves and no effective treatments 
exist, so these individuals are forced to 
accept their condition and adapt to life 
in a sightless world. 

Vision loss due to retinal disease affects 
some 6 million Americans and 25 million 
people worldwide. In addition to the 
social impact on individuals and their 

A retinal implant patient visits Disneyland 
(see article below). The vision enabled by 
this first device allows patients to distin-
guish light from dark and localize large 
objects. Patients have found these abilities 
useful for daily activities. Vastly improved 
devices being developed in the DOE Arti-
ficial Retina Project hold much promise 
for the future.

In this Issue

1 Envisioning Sight for the Blind

1 Eyeing the Future

2 A New Kind of Vision

3 Engineering Sight

The Bionic Eye

4 DOE Artificial Retina Project Collaborators

Multidisciplinary groups across the U.S.

5 Designing an Artificial Retina

Challenges and Progress

5 Why DOE?

6 Spotlight

Argonne National Laboratory

7 Who is Eligible?

Would you like to participate

in future studies? 

8 Humayun Named Innovator of the Year

8 Related Websites

Eyeing the Future

One Patient?s Story

Linda M., a petite brunette in her early 
60s (pictured above), first realized that 
something was wrong with her vision 
when she couldn?t find things she 
dropped. An ophthalmologist soon 
confirmed her suspicions and delivered a 
sobering diagnosis: Linda was exhibiting 
the early signs of retinitis pigmentosa 
(RP), a disease that attacks cells in the 

?continued on page 2

?continued on page 7 

Fall 2006

families, blindness also takes a toll on 
national economies and adds to healthcare 
spending burdens, because patients often 
require significant aid over decades. With 
an aging population living longer, the 
number of those affected will continue to 
grow and, by some estimates, may even 
triple by 2025, creating a virtual pandemic 
of vision loss.

An Unexpected Path to 
Restoring Sight

In the early 1990s, scientists led by Mark 
Humayun (then at Johns Hopkins University, 
now at Doheny) made an important 
discovery that led to an opportunity for 
intervention. They found that the remaining 
neural wiring in the retinas of RP 
and AMD patients could still receive and 
transmit light signals. The team began 
working on an implantable microelectrode 
array that could communicate with the 
remaining functional cells and stimulate 
visual perceptions (see sidebar, p. 3).

Adapting DOE Technologies 
for New Challenges

The basic idea for the array builds on the 
medical microelectronics revolution that 
produced pacemakers and the cochlear ear 
implant for the deaf. The eye, however, 
is an especially delicate environment, 
requiring the use of more advanced and 
miniaturized technologies that also can 
adapt to life in a salty world. ?That?s 
where DOE technology comes in, and 
it?s really the vision for this project,? says 
Humayun (see sidebar, p. 5). In 1999, 
the Doheny group began collaborating 
with Elias Greenbaum from DOE?s Oak 
Ridge National Laboratory, who was also 
working on approaches for restoring sight 
to the blind.

To speed the design and development of 
better models, in 2004 Doheny and DOE 
(including six of its national laboratories), 
two other universities, and Second Sight® 
Medical Products Inc. (a private-sector 
company) signed a Cooperative Research 
and Development Agreement (see Collab-
orators, p. 4). Under the agreement, the 
institutions will jointly share intellectual 
property rights and royalties from their 
research. This will spur progress by 
freeing the researchers to share details of 
their work with collaborators.

Three Models Explored

To date, 6 patients have successfully 
been implanted with the first prototype 
Model 1 device, which contains 16 
electrodes. In addition to providing 
rudimentary sight for the patients (see left 
figure in sidebar below), this apparatus is 
beginning to answer critical fundamental 
biological questions that will enable 
researchers to go much further in 
developing this concept. A second, more 
compact device awaits approval by the 
U.S. Food and Drug Administration 
(FDA) for human trials, and a third, far 
less invasive and higher-resolution model 
is under development.

Funding and Synergies

Over the past 7 years, the DOE project has 
grown from a pilot funded at $500,000 
(FY 1999) to a full-scale effort with 
support of $9.3 million (FY 2005). The 
DOE Office of Science funds the project.

DOE supports the design, construction, 
and some preclinical (nonhuman) testing 
of the devices. Funding is for research in 
the following areas:

? Neuroscience imaging studies on 
Model 1 

? Some preclinical animal studies of 
Model 2 

? Design and fabrication studies of 
Model 3

Doheny also receives other federal funding 
to support and extend the work on 
the retinal and other neural prostheses. 

Envisioning continued from page 1 

A New Kind of Vision

The images at right approximate 
what patients with retinal devices 
see. Increasing the number of electrodes 
will result in more visual 
perceptions and higher resolution 
vision. Scientists worked with patients 
who received the Model 1 implant 
(a 4 x 4 array of 16 electrodes) 
for about one month after surgery 
to help them interpret what they 
saw. Deaf individuals with cochlear 
implants also need such guidance to 
understand sounds they are hearing 
for the first time.

16 x 16

256 Pixels

32 x 32

1000+ Pixels

4 x 4

16 Pixels

(Images generated by the Artificial Retinal Implant Vision Simulator devised 
and developed 
by Wolfgang Fink at the Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research 
California Institute of Technology.)


Fall 2006

The National Eye Institute of the National 
Institutes of Health supports fundamental 
and applied research related to the prosthesis. 
Commenting on the benefits of these 
synergies, Humayun notes that ?You need 
to leverage all the expertise more efficiently 
and effectively and not reinvent the wheel.?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) 
is providing Doheny with funding for the 
longer-term goals of further enhancing 
the retinal prosthesis and adapting the 
technologies to treat a wide range of other 
neurological disorders. For example, 
researchers are studying how the foundational 
concepts used to create the retinal 
prosthetic can be used to reanimate paralyzed 
limbs and even restore short- and 
long-term memory for stroke and dementia 
(as in Alzheimer?s disease). For more 
information on the NSF project, see web 
site bmes-erc.usc.edu.

Worldwide Projects

Other retinal prostheses projects are 
under way in the United States and world-
wide, including Germany, Japan, Ireland, 
Australia, Korea, China, and Belgium. 
These programs pursue many different 
designs and surgical approaches. Some 
show great promise for the future, but have 
yet to demonstrate practicality in terms 
of adapting to and lasting long-term in a 
human eye. Thus far the projects that have 
progressed to clinical (human) trials are 
the collaborative DOE effort, a project at 
Optobionics (Chicago), and two efforts in 
Germany at Intelligent Medical Implants 
AG and Retinal Implant AG. [For more 
information on worldwide projects, see 
Science 312, 1124-26 (2006).]

Although the DOE-Doheny team and 
their patients are excited by early implant 
successes and new hopes for the 
future, this is just the tip of the iceberg, 
says Humayun. ?Revolutionary technology 
and new approaches will get us 
beyond rudimentary vision to the more 
functional device?it?s a quantum difference,? 
he said. ?We?re trying to go beyond 
restoring basic functions, so millions can 
be more integrated with society.? n 

Engineering Sight: The Bionic Eye

Normal vision begins when light enters and moves through the eye to strike 
specialized photoreceptor (light-receiving) cells in 
the retina called rods and cones. These cells convert light signals to electric 
impulses that are sent to the optic nerve and the brain. 
Retinal diseases like age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa 
destroy the photoreceptor cells. The artificial 
retina device bypasses these cells to transmit signals directly to the optic 

The device consists of a tiny camera 
and microprocessor mounted 
in eyeglasses, a receiver implanted 
behind the ear, and an electrode-
studded array that is tacked to 
the retina. A wireless battery pack 
worn on the belt powers the entire 

The camera captures an image 
and sends the information to the 
microprocessor, which converts 
the data to an electronic signal 
and transmits it to the receiver. 
The receiver sends the signals 
through a tiny cable to the electrode 
array, stimulating it to emit 
pulses. The pulses travel through 
the optic nerve to the brain, which 
perceives patterns of light and 
dark spots corresponding to the 
electrodes stimulated. Patients 
learn to interpret the visual patterns 


DOE Artificial Retina Project Collaborators

Includes 6 national laboratories,

3 universities, and private industry

Multidisciplinary groups across the United States 
are using a highly focused and coordinated 
approach to develop a dramatically improved 
retinal prosthetic device to restore sight to the 
blind. The Doheny Eye Institute and Oak Ridge 
National Laboratory lead the collaborative effort.

Brookhaven National Laboratory Upton, NY 

Performs neuroscience imaging studies of

the Model 1 retinal prosthesis.

North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC 

Performs electromagnetic and thermal modeling of 
the device to help determine how much energy can be 
used to stimulate the remaining nondiseased cells.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Oak Ridge, TN

Measures the effect of increasing the 
number of electrodes on the quality of 
the electrical signals used to stimulate 
the surviving neural cells in the retina.

Argonne National Laboratory Chicago

Performs packaging and hermetic- 
seal research to protect the 
prosthetic device from the salty eye 
environment, using their R&D 100 
award-winning ultrananocrystaline 
diamond technology.

Lawrence Livermore National 
Laboratory Livermore, CA

Uses photolithographic technology 
to develop a thin, flexible implant 
that can conform to the curved 
shape of the retina.

University of California, Santa Cruz

Performs bidirectional telemetry for 
wireless communication and chip 
design for stimulating the electrode 

Doheny Eye Institute at the University of 
Southern California Los Angeles

Provides medical direction and performs 
preclinical and clinical testing of the electrode 
array implants. Leads the Artificial Retina Project.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Los Alamos, NM

Performs imaging and modeling of retinal 
function and develops advanced optical 
imaging techniques. These contributions will 
provide a better understanding of how the 
prosthesis works by mapping the interaction 
between the brain and retina.

Second Sight Medical Products Inc. Sylmar, CA 

Created the Model 1 and Model 2 devices (the latter 
with DOE contributions) and will integrate DOE 
technologies into a Model 3 design. SSMP will be 
responsible for integration and production of devices 
under FDA regulations, performance of clinical trials, 
and eventual commercial distribution to patients.

Sandia National Laboratories Albuquerque, NM

Develops microelectromechanical systems 
(MEMS) for electrode arrays and high-
density interconnect tools, and high-voltage 
electronic subsystems for integration onto 
the electrode-array substrates.


Designing an 
Artificial Retina: 
Challenges and 

Researchers face numerous challenges in 
developing retinal prosthetic devices that 
are effective, safe, and durable enough to 
last for the lifetime of the individual. 

The device must be biocompatible with 
delicate eye tissue, yet tough enough 
to withstand the corrosive effect of the 
salty environment. Moreover, it should 
remain stably tacked to a precise area of 
the retina and not overly compress or 
pull at the tissue, whose resilience can 
be compared to that of a wet Kleenex. 
The apparatus also needs to be powered 
at a high enough level to stimulate 
electrodes, yet not generate enough heat 
to damage the remaining functional 
retina. Additionally, image processing 
needs to be performed in real time so 
there is no delay in interpreting an object 
in view. Development of effective surgical 
approaches are critically important as 
well to ensure a successful implant. 

Three Artificial Retina Project devices are 
now in testing or development. Engineering 
goals include enhancing the resolution 
(increasing the number of electrodes 
and thus the number of dots produced) 
and decreasing the size of the device and 
complexity of the surgical procedure.

Model 1

The Model 1 device [developed by Second 
Sight Medical Products Inc. (SSMP)] has 
been implanted in six patients, whose 
ages ranged from 56 to 77 at time of 
implant and all of whom have retinitis 
pigmentosa. The device consists of a 16-
electrode array in a one-inch package 
that allows the implanted electronics to 
communicate with a camera mounted on 
a pair of glasses. It is powered by a battery 
pack worn on a belt. This implant now 
enables patients to detect when lights are 
on or off, describe an object?s motion, 
count individual items, and locate 
objects in their environment. To evaluate 
the long-term effects of the retinal im- 
plant, five devices have been approved 
for home use.

Model 2

The smaller, more compact Model 2 
retinal prosthesis (developed by SSMP 
with DOE contributions) is currently 
undergoing preclinical (nonhuman) 
studies. This model will be much 
smaller, contain 60 electrodes, and 
eventually become the first commercial 
device. Subject to FDA approval, plans 
are to implant this device into the first 
patient during 2006. Surgical time has 
been reduced from the 6 hours required 
for Model 1 to 2 hours.

Model 3 

The Model 3 device, which will have 
more than 200 electrodes, is undergoing 
design and fabrication studies at the 
DOE national laboratories. This device 
will use more advanced materials than 
those in the two previous ones. A special 
coating, only a few microns thick, will 
replace the bulky sealed package used in 
previous models. Additionally, the new 
model will be constructed of flexible 
materials that will conform to the shape 
of the inner eye. Since Model 3 will be 
many times smaller than earlier ones, it 
will be implantable entirely inside or 
around the eye.

The ultimate goal for the prosthetic 
device is to enable facial recognition 
and large-print reading vision, using 
materials that will last for a lifetime. n

The artificial retina consists of an electrode-
studded array (shown) that is tacked to the 
retina inside the eye.

Why is the Department of Energy

involved in retinal research?

The challenge of developing a tiny device that can perform complicated tasks 
be tough enough to survive in the eye?s salty environment demands a diversity 
of talents and capabilities. The unique resources and expertise housed at DOE?s 
multidisciplinary national laboratories (see pp. 4 and 6 and web site 
are well suited to address the technical challenges involved, including those 
materials sciences, microfabrication, microelectrode construction, 
and computer modeling. ?Going to the DOE national labs is like going to a 
supermarket,? says Mark Humayun, lead investigator in the DOE Artificial 
Retina Project. ?Their revolutionary technologies are enabling completely new 

In addition to offering world-class resources, DOE has over 50 years of 
managing large multifaceted projects including the Human Genome Project, 
by DOE?s Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) in 1987.

The Artificial Retina Project is sponsored by the Advanced Medical Technologies 
Program of BER?s Life and Medical Sciences Division. Past BER successes include 
developing the field of nuclear medicine: Nearly every nuclear medicine scan or 
test used today was made possible by BER-funded research, an advancement that 
has all but eliminated ?exploratory? surgeries.


Argonne National 

Creating Diamond Coatings 
for the Retinal Implant

Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) 
plays a critical role in the success of the 
electrode implants used in the Artificial 
Retina Project. That?s where researchers 
Orlando Auciello and John Carlisle are 
using their patented ultrananocrystalline 
diamond (UNCD) technology to apply a 
revolutionary new coating to the retinal 
prosthetic device. The new packaging 
promises to provide a very thin, 
ultrasmooth film that will be far more 
compact and biocompatible than the 
bulky materials used to encase the earlier 
prototypes (Models 1 and 2). 

?It?s like wearing a skin instead of a space 
suit,? says Mark Humayun (Doheny Eye 
Institute at the University of Southern 
California), leader of the Artificial 
Retina Project. 

An Ultrathin Diamond Coating

UNCD is a form of carbon that captures 
many of the properties of diamond and 
can be deposited on a wide variety of 
surfaces in thin layers. The diamond 
grains used in the coating are only 2 
to 5 nanometers in size (a nanometer 
is about 10,000 times narrower than a 
human hair). These films are as hard 
as single-crystal diamond, the hardest 
known material on earth. Unlike 
natural diamond, however, its properties 
can be adjusted and optimized for a 
given application. 

Considered to be a platform technology, 
UNCD has numerous potential beneficial 
applications in such areas as medicine, 
transportation, and industrial production. 
It is chemically inert (nonreactive) and 
compatible with biological tissues, traits 
that make it useful in retinal prosthetic 
implants as well as other biodevices such 
as an artificial pancreas. Additionally, the 
material is a superb electrical insulator but 
also can be made to be highly conductive, 
and this conductivity can be tuned. 
This work has led to the use of UNCD 
for biosensors that use electrochemical 
reactions to detect biomolecules.

Parts of the UNCD technology received 
a 2003 R&D 100 award, an honor given 
to the most innovative developments that 
occur in a particular year. The technology 
has been licensed to Advanced Diamond 
Technologies (Champaign, Il.), a company 
founded by Carlisle and Auciello.

From the National Labs

to the Public

A goal of the national laboratories is to 
provide benefits to industry and the public 
by moving discoveries into everyday use, 
a process called technology transfer. This 
practice leads to benefits for everyone 
and demonstrates the value of using tax 
dollars to support early-stage scientific 
research. In recognition of their efforts 
toward that end, Carlisle and Auciello 
received the 2006 Award for Excellence 
in Technology Transfer from the Federal 
Laboratory Consortium.

The nation?s first national laboratory, 
ANL conducts basic and applied 
scientific research across a wide 
spectrum of disciplines, ranging from 
high-energy physics to climatology and 
biotechnology. Since 1990, Argonne has 
worked with more than 600 companies 
and numerous federal agencies and other 
organizations to help advance America?s 
scientific leadership and prepare the 
nation for the future. Argonne is 
managed by the University of Chicago 
for the U.S. Department of Energy?s 
Office of Science. n

Argonne National Laboratory

Researchers John Carlisle (left) and Orlando Auciello (right) are developing an 
biocompatible coating for the device.


retina and ultimately would destroy her 
vision, possibly within 10 years. She was 
only 21 at the time.

RP is a relatively rare, inherited disease 
that affects about one in four thousand 
people, and no treatments or cures are 
available. As in Linda?s experience, symptoms 
often begin in early adulthood with 
loss of peripheral vision and grow increasingly 
worse. Millions more become blinded 
each year due to age-related macular degeneration 
(AMD), which strikes the same 
photoreceptor cells in the retina.

Linda?s vision continued to deteriorate over 
the next 30 years, but her determination to 
go on with life?s normal activities, with the 
support of her husband Roy, allowed them 
to enjoy a full family life and raise three 
daughters. Linda lost her remaining vision 
in her early 50s and has been completely 
blind for about 10 years. She views her 
condition with the frustration of one 
whose nature is strong and independent. 
?It?s really irritating to rely on others,? 
she says.

Another Chance

Linda first heard about the DOE Artificial 
Retina Project from an ophthalmologist 
who thought she might be a good 
candidate for the study. Upon visiting the 
project leaders at the Doheny Eye Institute 
(University of Southern California), she 
learned that volunteers undergo a surgical 
procedure to implant a tiny array with 16 
electrodes on the damaged retina of one 
eye. When activated later on, the electrodes 
would perform some of the light-signaling 
functions of the destroyed retinal cells, 
allowing the patient to see patterns 
of lights like a lit-up scoreboard (see 
sidebar, p. 3). For 18 months post surgery, 
participants would return for weekly 
follow-up visits.

Linda understood that the retinal 
prosthesis could provide only a 
rudimentary form of sight, but even that 
was intriguing. She also thought that her 
participation in the study would allow 
researchers to learn more for future 
generations. ?OK, let?s do it,? she told them. 
One week later, the Doheny Eye Institute 
surgeons performed the operation. It 
turned out to be ?a breeze,? she said. ?One 
night in the hospital, and I was on my 
merry way.?

Making Connections

Researchers speculate about what a patient 
with a retinal implant might see, but no 
one really knows how the brain of someone 
who has been blind for many years will 
process new visual input (see sidebar, p. 2). 
For this reason, researchers and patients 
must work together to map the new world 
of artificial sight.

Two weeks after the surgery, doctors 
activated the device. Linda admits that her 
reaction upon first seeing the flashing lights 
coming from the implanted electrodes was, 
?I?m going to have to connect a lot of dots 
before I see anything.? But after several 
visits to the lab, she began to make some 
correlations between the patterns of lights 
and the physical world. A line of vertical 
lights, for example, could be a door or the 
edge of a table. With practice, the time 
needed to interpret the dot-images grew 
shorter. A year and a half after receiving the 
implant, she was given the go-ahead to try 
using the device at home. 

New Discoveries

Now, after almost 2 years with the implant, 
Linda and Roy reel off examples of how 
the implant has impacted their lives, 
including some unexpected ways. Mostly, 
it has helped Linda gain more control 
over her environment, as she negotiates 
more confidently around the house. ?I see 
where the kitchen table and counters are, 
and I don?t knock glasses over anymore,? 
she reports. 

She also needs less help in interpreting 
the outside world. When Linda and her 
husband go to church, she knows where 
the priest and choir sit. When someone 
approaches, she can turn to face them before 
they begin to speak. On their evening walks, 
she can tell whose porch lights are turned on, 
giving her some sense of location. Also, when 
riding on the freeway at night, she knows 
when they are passing through a tunnel or 
near a well-lit mall.

Linda becomes animated as she talks about 
attending her grandchildrens? sporting 
events. ?Now I can follow the action after my 
grandchild hits the ball in a Little League 
game,? she says with satisfaction. 

She laughs as she reports that she also sees 
things she?d rather not. On a recent visit 
to Disneyland, Linda climbed into a fast 
ride with her grandchildren. As the speed 
ramped up, she automatically shut her eyes, 
only to discover that the external camera in 
the retinal prosthesis continued to provide 
visual input, sending signals to the brain. 
?Things were flashing much faster and closer 
than I liked,? she says. ?I?ll know to turn it 
off the next time.?

Future Enhancements

Researchers at the Doheny Eye Institute say 
Linda?s experience and that of five other 
patients with implants is just the beginning 
of what they hope to provide for people with 
retinal diseases. A second, improved model 
with 60 electrodes is now in preclinical 
testing and soon will be implanted in a 
new group of volunteers. A third, vastly 
improved model containing hundreds 
of electrodes is now in early stages of 
development. The ultimate goal is to restore 
unaided mobility, facial recognition, and the 
ability to read large print. ?If I?m still around 
then,? says Linda, ?I?ll want one of those 
models. I?d do it again.? n

Eyeing continued from page 1

Who is Eligible for a Retinal Implant? The devices discussed in this newsletter 
are experimental and not yet available to the public.

Studies are now being conducted at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University 
of Southern California Medical Center. Although enrollment 
is not currently open, to be eligible for consideration as a candidate for 
future studies patients must have a confirmed history of retinitis 
pigmentosa. For more information call Second Sight at 818.833.5000 and ask for 
the Clinical Research Department.


Related Web Sites for 
More Information

DOE Artificial Retina Project


Doheny Eye Institute


Second Sight Medical Products Inc.


Biomimetic MicroElectronic 


Foundation Fighting Blindness


Prevent Blindness America


AMD Alliance


American Council of the Blind


National Alliance for Eye

and Vision Research


Humayun Named 
Innovator of the Year

Prepared for the U. S. Department of 
Energy Office of Science by the Genome 
Management Information System (GMIS) 
at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 1060 
Commerce Park, MS 6480, Oak Ridge, 
TN 37830.

Denise K. Casey, Editor and Writer

Shirley Andrews, Graphic Designer

Marissa Mills, Web Designer

Special thanks to:

Lindy Yow, Science Project Director 
at Doheny Eye Institute, University of 
Southern California

Sponsor Contacts

Michael Viola, M.D.


Dean Cole, Ph.D.


Send announcements and suggestions for 
future issues to Dean Cole.

Mark Humayun, lead investigator of 
the U.S. Department of Energy Arti-
ficial Retina Project, received the 
prestigious Innovator of the Year 
award for 2005 from R&D Magazine. 
The award recognized him for creating 
an implantable artificial retina that 
promises to restore sight to blind 
patients. Each year, this international 
award recognizes one individual who 
has demonstrated excellence and 
creativity in the design, development, 
and introduction to the marketplace 
of one or more technologically signifi-
cant products over the past 5 years. 

Humayun, a surgeon who also holds a 
doctorate in biomedical engineering, 
began working on the retinal implant 
17 years ago. His inspiration, however, 
goes back much further, to the mem-
ory of his beloved grandmother whose 
decline was hastened by blindness in 
old age. 

Humayun is a professor of ophthal- 
mology at the Keck School of Medicine 
and of biomedical engineering in the 
Viterbi School of Engineering at the 
University of Southern California (USC). 
He is also associate director of research 
at the Doheny Eye Institute at USC. n

ArtificialRetina.energy. gov

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