A loss of vision is pretty normal for most of us. When we notice that we can’t read the board at school, or that we are having a bit of trouble reading, we know it's time to visit the optometrist for new glasses or contacts, or even laser surgery to restore our eyesight permanently. For some people suffering from degenerative eye diseases, glasses and laser surgery don't work and their condition has, up until now, lead to blindness. However, a new vision “miracle” has shown up in the news lately.

Researchers in the United States and Europe have now found a way to restore some form of vision to blind patients. By inserting a light-sensing eye implant into the retina of a blind person, scientists have found that the patient is able to once again “see” things surrounding them. The eye implant is a microchip that works by relaying light information to the optic nerve by sending electromagnetic pulses.

Fast Fact: Each eye implant used in a German study contains 1,500 light sensors!

This advancement is no miracle though — it’s just the result of research and technology providing a solution — and, just like laser surgery and glasses when they were first introduced, there is still lots of room for improvement.

Three previously blind people who participated in a German study, and were fitted with the implants during this early research phase, were able to recognize bright objects on a dark background and make out the difference between light and dark. But, more excitingly, one participant could read clocks and make out letters!

Did You Know?
In the same German study, one blind individual who received an implant was even able to read words after years of blindness!

An American company, Second Sight, has also developed an implant, called the Argus II, that has had similar success in restoring eyesight to 29 blind patients.

Unfortunately, these advances don’t mean that everyone who is blind will be able to see one day. This method only works for people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, an adult-onset group of eye conditions that ends in blindness. However, there is a possibility that this same technology could be used to improve the vision of elderly people who suffer from macular degeneration — an age-related cause of vision loss.

Hopefully you and your family will never have to live with vision loss, but this is an amazing advancement for those who do.

Learn More!

CBC article about the German study

UK article about the German study

Wired Magazine article about American eye implant

Second Sight website

CNIB article about vision loss

Article first published on November 25, 2010.

Rebecca Spring

I am a science communication graduate. I work at an environmental organization in Toronto. In my free time, I am learning Spanish so I can travel and work in South America.

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