Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic condition that distorts the retina’s response to light stimuli. The condition, which currently does not have a cure, presents itself as a gradual loss of vision. It begins with night vision and peripheral vision before progressing to total legal blindness. According to an Orlando eye doctor, it is important to note that blindness is measured by severity, meaning that a patient with retinitis pigmentosa can be declared legally blind while still preserving limited visual acuity. One in 4,000 Americans are affected by retinitis pigmentosa.

At the 117th annual meeting of the American Association of Ophthalmologists, researchers presented the Argus II, a retinal implant which is the first FDA-approved device to help counteract retinitis pigmentosa. The retinal implant will only be available to advanced retinitis pigmentosa patients who have been seen by professionals, including Orlando eye doctors. The Argus II is a completely man made retina, so it cannot perfectly replicate images as they are normally seen by the human eye. Instead, general shapes, light and motion are rendered into easily identifiable images by the artificial retina.

This device consists of a small digital camera attached to the patient’s glasses that sends information to a video processing unit worn on the patient’s body. The processing unit takes the images captured by the camera and processes them into instructions which are then wirelessly transmitted to the retinal implant. The implant is fitted with 60 electrodes which pulse, stimulating retinal cells to transmit information along the optic nerve and to the brain. The result is improved vision for retinitis pigmentosa sufferers whom may have previously been left totally blind by the disease. Medical studies were carried out on advanced retinitis pigmentosa sufferers in Europe for over five years before the device was approved by the FDA.

Though the researchers had a small sample size, improvement in object recognition was so significant and consistent across the board that it has officially received government approval. Orlando eye doctors estimate that there are thousands of patients with advanced retinitis pigmentosa in the U.S., and more are diagnosed with the condition annually. The Argus II works by helping patients to differentiate between light and dark. Formerly blurry images take shape with the assistance of the Argus II, giving patients the ability to judge depth and identify objects without other visual aids.

While the Argus II works by filling in the gaps left by damaged retina cells, it has only been developed to aid retinitis pigmentosa sufferers. Patients with other ailments related to the deterioration of the retina may eventually benefit from this artificial retina. Currently, the Argus II is the only device of its kind currently on the market in the United States.

To learn more about retinitis pigmentosa, contact an Orlando eye doctor at Retina Macula Specialists today.

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