Chip in the eye can improve sight

  • 10 June 2005

A German start-up company has developed a software-driven eye implant that electrically stimulates nerve cells, allowing visually-impaired people to see more clearly.

The system, created and patented by IIP Technologies, works through a combination of a microchip implanted in the patient’s eye and glasses with a special camera, connected together with a computer worn on a belt.

(c) 2003 IIP-Technologies GmbH

The software running on the computer interprets information from the camera and sends it to the eye microchip, which then electrically stimulates the optic nerves (above).

In a prototype study across four clinics in Germany and Austria last year, 20 people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that causes tunnel vision and eventually complete blindness, had the software implant in their eye. All but one said that their visual perception had improved.

A spokesperson for IIP Technologies told E-Health Insider that although the trial was not intended to give functional vision for the volunteers, the subjects saw spots of lights when the chip stimulated their retinas. The trial had initially been carried out to check the levels of electrical intensity needed to stimulate the optic nerve.

According to the FAQs on IIP Technologies’ site, people who have the implant "will be able to move around in unfamiliar surroundings and detect large objects such as furniture, doors and people. Driving a car will not be possible; however; walking should be possible in urban as well as rural environments without any additional orientation aids such as a cane or guide dog." The implant is not suitable for those who were born blind, however, as the visual cortex will not have been sufficiently developed.

IIP Technologies is currently seeking venture capital funding to continue testing the product, and is also aiming to achieve regulation by the US-based Food and Drug Administration.

"Our intention is to have improved versions of the first product on the market and a platform for new applications in the area of neurostimulation," said a spokesperson for the company.

A similar device, consisting solely of a microchip in the eye that converts light into electrical impulses is being tested by volunteers at Rush University in Colorado.


IIP Technologies [English]

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