Researchers at John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, England have implanted a device that has brought vision back to a woman with a genetic retinal disease.
Rhian Lewis, 49, has suffered from Retinitis Pigmentosa since she was a child. The disease causes a gradual loss of function of the cells of the retina (tissue that lines the inside of the back of the eyes). While not all cases lead to blindness, Rhian has a particularly aggressive form of the condition which resulted in complete blindness of her right eye.
Retina Implant AG, a German company, developed the device which was implanted in Lewis’ right eye during a 6 hour operation. The implant itself is only 3 square millimeters but contains 1500 light sensors that stimulate nerve cells in the retina. The optic nerve (main nerve bundle that transmits nerve cell signals to the brain) is then “awakened” and the brain is able to interpret vision signals again.
Although the vision that Lewis gained from the procedure was somewhat grainy, it had a profound effect as she has been completely blind in that eye for a very long time: “It’s been maybe eight years that I’ve had any sort of idea of what my children look like. Now, when I locate something…it’s pure elation. I just get so excited that I’ve got something right.”