Eat Your Heart Out, Vitamin A!

Vitamin A’s role in preventing childhood blindness (and mortality and lots of other bad stuff, too) is well known, but if your blindness isn’t caused by Vitamin A Deficiency, that’s of little use to you.

Remember this guy?

Well, his awesome visor is one step closer to becoming a reality (no cool infrared or other spectral settings yet, though). There are a couple of technologies in development, but Bio-Retina, is a 24×24 (576 pixels) grayscale artificial retina that is actually implanted in the back of the eye. Even better, it only costs about $60k and a 30-minute surgery under local anesthetic. Here’s what ExtremeTech has to say:

Basically, with macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, the light-sensitive rods and cones in your retina stop working. The Bio-Retina plops a 24×24-resolution (576-pixel!) sensor right on top of your damaged retina, and 576 electrodes on the back of the sensor implant themselves into the optic nerve. An embedded image processor converts the data from each of the pixels into electrical pulses that are coded in such a way that the brain can perceive different levels of grayscale.

The best bit, though, is how the the sensor is powered. The Bio-Retina system comes with a standard pair of corrective lenses that are modified so that they can fire a near-infrared laser beam through your iris to the sensor at the back of your eye. On the sensor there is a photovoltaic cell that produces up to three milliwatts — not a lot, but more than enough. The infrared laser is invisible and harmless. To see the Bio-Retina system in action, watch the demo video embedded below.

The Bio-Retina bionic eye implant. Image credit: PopSci

Let’s just hope that if it is capable in bringing sight to adults with congenital blindness, that their experience is better than that of Sidney Bradford who killed himself two years after gaining sight because it confused him and left him unable to work. Because there is a childhood critical period in the development of the visual cortex those who are blind at an early age and then recover from blindness after the critical period can have permanent difficulties with vision. For the millions whose blindness occurs from diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration, though, this invention offers real hope.

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