Global Health Watch: Retina implant restores partial sight in some blind patients, study shows

LONDON -- A retinal implant could help people suffering from an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa become partially sighted. The incurable condition begins in childhood with sight that diminishes to eventual blindness.

A recent published report refers to the 15-year research by professor Eberhart Zrenner of Germany’s University of Tuebingen along with colleagues at a private company, Retina Implant AG, who initially tested their sub-retinal microchip on 11 people. The research was published recently in Proceedings B, the biological research journal of the London-based Royal Society.

In the paper, three of those tested were able to make out shapes after the lengthy operation to insert the chip. One subject, 46-year-old Mikka Terho from Finland, was able to read large letters and a clock face, and differentiate between shades of gray a few days after the implant and his eyes eventually became adjusted to the light.

The chip, operated by a battery-powered cable implanted behind the ear, converts light into electrical impulses that act on the optic nerve. The device did not work on the other eight volunteers because it was implanted less deeply in the eye, according to the paper.

Zrenner’s team plans further work on their initial prototype. The Financial Times reported that Walter Wrobel, chief executive of Retina Implant, was planning to seek European Union approval for commercialization of the chip.