If there is one thing we don’t seem to be able to get enough of, it is emotional YouTube videos showcasing the moment someone’s life changed for the better. Just over a month ago, we shared with you the moment a legally blind woman saw her baby for the first time thanks to a pair of innovative electronic glasses. Now, after being fitted with a “bionic eye,” a blind man has been able to see his wife again for the first time in a decade, and they are both pretty overwhelmed, to say the least:
The man in the clip, 68-year-old Allen Zderad from Minnesota, suffers a rare, degenerative eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Those with this inherited condition suffer a loss of cells, called photoreceptors, in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye known as the retina. Although some may only experience a severe impairment in night vision, others can become completely blind.
Zderad’s vision began seriously deteriorating around 20 years ago until reaching a point when he was effectively rendered blind. As he could only see extremely bright light, but not objects, people or features, he was forced to quit his professional career as a chemist. In spite of this, he managed to teach himself to continue woodworking by relying on his sense of touch and spatial relationships.
Although RP is incurable and existing treatments are ineffective, hope was offered to Zderad after Mayo Clinic ophthalmologist Dr. Raymond Iezzi heard of his situation. Iezzi became interested and requested to see him because, conveniently, Iezzi was heading a clinical trial of a bionic eye that is intended to help restore some visual perception in blind individuals. Zderad signed himself up and later became Iezzi’s first patient to be fitted with the prosthesis, which is made by Second Sight.
As Iezzi explains in the video below, although RP causes a degeneration of photoreceptor cells in the retina, the rest of the tissue is relatively healthy and the cells which form the optic nerve are viable. The idea of the prosthesis is therefore to replace the function of the photoreceptors by sending signals directly to the optic nerve, bypassing the damaged retina.
To do this, a multi-electrode chip with 60 points of contact is first surgically inserted into the eye and placed on the retina before fitting an electronics package around the outside of the eye. The recipient then wears a pair of glasses equipped with a camera that sends footage to a small patient-worn computer. This then analyzes and translates the images into light signals that are then beamed to the implant. Finally, the electrodes send a series of impulses to the optic nerve, which are ultimately interpreted as vision by the brain.
In order to make full use of the prosthesis, the device needs further adjustment alongside some physical therapy. However, according to ABC News, Zderad can already see things like human forms and outlines of objects in intermittent flashes, and is even able to see his own reflection as a silhouette. He will probably never be able to see the details of faces, but he will be able to navigate his way around without a cane, which is a big boost to his quality of life.
[Via Second Sight, Mayo Clinic, Live Science, ABC News and The Telegraph]