Losing one's vision can be the single most devastating incident of one's life, since it takes away the hope to ever be able to see. Now, a group of enterprising scientists from Germany may have achieved a breakthrough of sorts, as far as retina implant techniques go. Eberhart Zrenner and a team of German scientists have after a series of experiments on cats, and then on a group of 11 individuals possibly brought out a cure to treat retinitis pigmentosa, a condition in which the retina of one's eye gets damaged, in the sense that the cells start breaking down with time. The retina, as we know is the tissue layer present at the back of one's inner eye and converts light images to nerve signals and transmits them to the brain. The condition is progressive varyingly, in the sense that some individuals with the disease may go completely blind, while some others may retain some amount of vision throughout, despite being mostly blind.
The gift of vision (Image credit: Getty Images)
Zrenner and his team have devised a chip, which they say will do the function of the light cells that break down, owing to the disease. The chip, according to a report in the Discovery Magazine is barely a few millimetres in size, but contain some 1,500 light-detecting diodes, which detect light coming in and then converts it into current. The intensity of the current varies directly with the brightness of the light, and this current is then sent directly to the bipolar cells. Just how tricky it is can be judged from the fact that the scientists have been working on this one, since a decade, according to this report and their study and research took them through stages, like – checking the safety, finding the right materials, and testing the chip in cats, before moving on to their real challenge – humans.
The team tested this chip on 11 patients in all, and reportedly, at least 5 of these 11 patients can now distinguish large, bright objects. The surgery, the report describes has been far from easy, and describing the process, it reads, “The chip sits at the end of a long steel tube, which had to be threaded through a hole behind the ear. After that, the surgeons had to remove a lot of the vitreous jelly in the front of the eye to work on the deeper layers, and they had to detach a small part of the retina to guide the chip into place.” Although the pilot test was successful, scientists are still fighting bigger challenges. For one, according to this report, endurance is key for a method like this to be successful, and that the pilot test was just a short-term test to prove that there is hope.