New hope for the blind

Wireless “video goggles” and a laser-powered microchip attached to the retina may give some blind people a small measure of sight in the future. Advances in miniaturization have produced the “eye chip”, which uses a tiny video camera mounted in a set of goggles to send images to a microchip fastened to the back of the retina. The chip has minuscule electrodes that stimulate the retina and produce an image for the brain.

“The beauty of it is that you’re hooked up to the most powerful computer in the world, which is the human brain,” says Dr. Mark Humayun, an ophthalmologist at the Wilmer Eye Institute in Baltimore.

Popular musician Stevie Wonder is said to be interested in the new technology, and has spoken with Dr. Humayun. The doctor has offered to examine the 49 year old singer, who has been blind since birth, but said that the procedure wasn’t likely to help those with conditions similar to Wonder’s.

The doctor says that the “prosthetic eyes” would probably be best for those who had vision at one time, or whose eyesight is worsening. Macular degeneration, the major age-related cause of blindness, is one condition that might be helped by the new technology. New dr therapies that promise to halt the progression of macular degeneration are close to approval in Canada and the U.S.