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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Vision chip helps blind people to see again

A pioneering new technology brings “the realms of science fiction” into the lives of people devastated by blindness.

A MAN WHO began to go blind as a teenager can see again – and has been able to read letters, tell the time, and identify a cup and saucer on a table thanks to pioneering new technology.

Miikka Terho, 46, began to lose his eyesight as an adolescent due to a genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. He was completely blind when he joined a pilot study to test the experimental eye chip at the University of Tübingen in Germany, the BBC reports.

Along with three other volunteers, Terho had an electronic chip inserted under his retina in the area of the eye named the macula – which has the greatest concentration of light-sensitive cells.

Tehro said:

I’ve been completely blind in the central area for about 10 years. I had no reading ability and no way of recognising anybody any more. When the chip was first turned on, I just saw flashes and flickering. It didn’t make any sense. But in a matter of hours, everything started to get clearer and clearer.

When I looked at people for the first time, they looked like ghosts. I knew it was a person, but they were hazy. Then things got sharper.

Tehro spoke of the joy he experienced when his vision began to trickle back:

It was such a good feeling to be able to focus on something, to see something right there, and maybe even reach out and grab it.

He has asked doctors if he can have the chip planted permanently if subsequent trials go well.

Teams in the UK plan to begin inserting the chips from early next year, which will be led by consultant retinal surgeons Robert MacLaren at Oxford eye hospital and Tim Jackson at King’s College hospital.

MacLaren is quoted by the BBC as saying:

The visual results they were able to achieve were, up until now, thought to be in the realms of science fiction. There are still, however, many questions as scientists we look forward to answering.

Surgeons in the German trial spent six hours delicately inserting the electronic chips into the volunteers’ eyes; the chip was connected to a battery via a thin wire, which each patient wore on a necklace.

Patients first report seeing in only black and white, but say that the longer they wear the chip the clearer their vision becomes.

Eberhart Zrenner, director of the institute for ophthalmic research in Tübingen said:

This is a proof of concept. In 1900, nobody knew if we would ever have powered flight, but then the Wright brothers flew a couple of hundred metres and showed it was possible. We are in the same situation.

A second trial has begun that uses an implantable and rechargeable battery so patients do not need to wear a necklace.

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