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Retina implant 'restores sight'

Friday November 5th 2010

Three blind people have been able to recognise shapes and objects thanks to a radical retinal implant developed in Germany.

The patients had lost their sight to the inherited condition retinitis pigmentosa, and were only able to perceive bright light before having the ground-breaking device fitted.

Within days of undergoing surgery, all three were able to recognises objects placed on a table, including a cup, a saucer and different geometric shapes. One patient was even able to walk around a room with confidence and tell the time from a clock face.

A British eye expert commenting on the breakthrough by German company Retina Implant AG said it had turned science fiction into fact.

Patients in the UK are due to receive the implant for the first time in a follow-up trial starting next year.

Two men and one woman, aged 40, 44 and 38, took part in the pilot study and had lost the ability to read at least five years before undergoing surgery.

The implant is fitted beneath the retina and consists of a three millimetre-square array of 1,500 light sensors. Each "photodiode" delivers a pulsed electrical signal to adjoining groups of nerve cells, sending a message to the brain.

A power supply unit is connected to the device by means of a cable passed through the skin.

Details of the trial were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Copyright © Press Association 2010

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