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‘Bionic eye’ new option for retinitis pigmentosa patients

By Jessica Pasley
August 2013

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is one of 12 sites in the United States to offer the first FDA-approved bionic eye for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System will be available to patients with late-stage RP, an inherited retinal degenerative disease. Ophthalmologists at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute (VEI) are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the innovative technology for patients who are functionally blind.

“To date, there has been no proven, effective treatment in preventing this disease or slowing it down. For patients who are blind, the ability to regain some vision, functionality and independence is astonishing.” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., George W. Hale Professor and chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and director of the VEI.

RP, which affects 100,000 people in the U.S., is a retinal degenerative disease characterized by progressive peripheral vision loss and night vision difficulties. It is caused by abnormalities of the rods and cones (receptors of vision) that can lead to peripheral and central vision loss.

“It is really amazing to see that patients, who previously were functionally blind, will be able to recognize objects, silhouettes, people and large letters. Patients living with RP have adapted to a non-seeing lifestyle. This is a life-changing treatment,” said Anita Agarwal, M.D., associate professor of Ophthalmology at Vanderbilt.

Researchers have been working toward a treatment for nearly 25 years. The Argus II will be available at VEI in a few months.

Argus II includes a miniature video camera, a transmitter, eyeglasses, a video processing unit (VPU) and an implanted artificial retina. The device was created by Second Sight Medical Products Inc. 

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