Each year, hundreds of people will be born blind or become totally blind. Many more will develop age-related macular degeneration and become severely visually impaired. Doctors may have found a way to restore sight in the blind.
Connie Schoeman has felt her way through most of her life.
"I was about 28 when I first became aware that I had an eye problem," she says.
A doctor diagnosed retinitispigmentosa, a blinding eye disease.
"He said, 'It may not get worse, but it might,' and it certainly did."
Today, Connie is completely blind.
"I have no idea what I look like, because I don't remember what I look like."
Now, at 76, she's in a groundbreaking study with Dr. Mark Humayun.
"My hopes are that we can help patients who are otherwise blind, and if we can help them in the span of the next five to seven years really get this high-resolution imagery, that would be wonderful," says Dr. Humayun.
He says this implant, an electronic retinal prosthesis, could restore sight. It stimulates remaining healthy retinal cells to detect light.
"The kind of light you see is akin to looking at a scoreboard, and in fact, what we're trying to do is pack more lights into a denser pattern, so you can recognize finer features."
In early research, patients can describe the motion of objects and can tell when lights are turned on or off. Dr. Humayun says future research will use more electrodes to detect even more light.
"It's really exciting. I feel sort of like Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier. Who knows how far this is going to go in the future?"
For more information, contact:
Retina Implant Hotline
Doheny Eye Institute