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Bionic Retinas Give Patients Sight 199

The Noof writes " Yahoo News is running a story about patients who have been given partial sight thanks to implants of silicon-based bionic retinas. " The article notes that the implant is having a "rescue effect" on the other components of the retina, restoring cells around the implant and making them useful again." Amazing stuff.
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Bionic Retinas Give Patients Sight

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    We can save him.

    Lose the arm.
  • by doorbot.com ( 184378 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:15PM (#3488263) Journal
    For some reason, I read this story's title as "Bionic Retinas Give Patents Sight" which I thought was a reference to issuing/implanting bionic retinas in USPTO employees so that they would be better able to read the rediculous patents which cross their desks.

    Maybe I could use a set of bionic retinas...
    • This is definitely cool stuff. Another step closer to cyborgs. :)

      They only mention that this has been tested on people that have lost their vision - wonder if it'd do anything for people born blind?

      I'd like to see more science articles like this on the front page of slashdot!
      • I'd assume it'd depend on the reason the person had blindness. For many, im sure that their retinas are indeed fine, but what is the problem is the optic nerve. In fact, one of my friends friends (chain rule) lost his sight from some sort of pressure on his brain that he got from hitting his head, it pinched off the nerve and killed it. Now all we need is synthetic optic nerves!
        • In theory... wouldn't stem cells help with that?
          They can re-attach a rat's spinal cord.... why not an optic nerve?

          There are a magnitude of congenital vision defects, ranging from retinal damage, internal eye pressure problems, optic nerve problems.. but the strangest to date I have encountered is Congenital Anomaly (the absense of eyes as a result of oxygen treatment as an infant)
      • People who are born with visual impairments that can be corrected with technology (i.e. not visual cortex failure) have very low chances of worthwhile results.

        When the brain never receives stimulus in a cortex, it never forms any pathways. That portion of the brain, while functional, makes no connections with anything else. A person with visual implants might be able to see as well (maybe better) than you and I, but they wouldn't understand what they saw. They would have technical function but no visual acuity.

        This same issue has been demonstrated in people who grew up deaf. They may obtain the ability to hear, but understanding is something they can most likely never acheive. The new sense has missed the "formative" years of the brain, and the individual will never be able to use the sense as others do.

        For those who have a hard time comprehending this concept (which is completely understandable), liken it to suddenly having wings surgically attached. Sure, you may have wings, and it's physically possible to fly, but you've never had wings before. They don't work like arms or legs, and you'll probably never learn to control them well enough to fly.

        If you still aren't sure, watch At First Sight [mgm.com]. It shows quite well the problems a person would face were they to regain sight. And keep in mind, he once could see.

        • Well in this case then one would want to put the implants in as early as possible. Once they have ironed out all the problems and improved them, they will likely be available for those born with out or with damaged retinas within a few years.
  • question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CmdrSanity ( 531251 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:17PM (#3488270) Homepage
    So I guess the most obvious question is: how long before the bionic retina is better than the real thing and would you get one?

    Neat stuff.

    • Re:question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:49PM (#3488396) Journal

      Let's build on that. How dense could the sensors get before the optical limits of the eye would become the bottleneck?

      Also, since these things are using the photo-voltaic effect to generate the electrical impulse, isn't there a limit to how well they would work in low light? Can that limit be overcome? Could they build units that grabbed inductive power from a transmitter in your glasses to overcome that problem, or maybe even allow super night vision? Will future soldiers be encouraged to get such implants? On the opposite side of that equation, would they allow you to look at the sun without being damaged?

      • Re:question (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Aix ( 218662 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @12:16AM (#3488701) Homepage
        I think you underestimate just how good human biological vision really is. It is easy to think at first that rods and cones are just like CCDs or pixels or whatever. It is far more complicated than that. In fact, there is extensive research that demonstrates that you can see in higher resolution than should be optically possible. The reason this works is complicated, but basically comes down to the fact that there is an immense amount of inter-cellular interpolation going on. It can be modeled simplistically as an array of voltage sources.

        A good starter paper might be the classic "What the Frog's Eye Tells The Frog's Brain" by McCullough, Pitts and Lettvin. (From MIT's RLE Lab in the 50's) More recently, Marr's stuff is supposed to be very good.
        • you can see in higher resolution than should be optically possible

          That seems very counter-intuitive, but since you've suggested it, I can postulate at least one way that could be achieved: When something moves, you get multiple samples per cell, which the optical-neural system could then be intelligently integrating into a higher resolution picture. If that's true though, it wouldn't help you when staring intently at something that isn't moving.

          If those papers can suggest anything that allows you to improve resolution when neither the subject nor the optical receptors are moving, I will be truly impressed. Actually, I think that's impossible but I can't prove it off the top of my head.

          • When something moves, you get multiple samples per cell, which the optical-neural system could then be intelligently integrating into a higher resolution picture. If that's true though, it wouldn't help you when staring intently at something that isn't moving.

            I should note that research has looked at this. If you look at a single point, you can observe a blackout effect. All but the point you're looking at slowly goes dark until only what you're looking at is identifiable. (Or I'm forgetting, and everything goes darker. Its been a few years since that course in college.) The net result is that most of what you see is triggered by changing light levels, not the static images you look at for a few milliseconds at a time.

      • "Could they build units that grabbed inductive power from a transmitter in your glasses to overcome that problem, or maybe even allow super night vision?"

        I bet these people in the trial already have a form of "night vision" from their implant. The human eye's response to light cuts off at ~700nm; most photosensitive electronics extend well past that. All you'd need to do is buy one of these [gadgethome.com] and plug it in!
        • >>"Could they build units that grabbed inductive power from a transmitter in your glasses to overcome that problem, or maybe even allow super night vision?"

          >I bet these people in the trial already have a form of "night vision" from their implant. The human eye's response to light cuts off at ~700nm; most photosensitive electronics extend well past that.

          I think it's even better:
          Currently, night vision means light amplification or light conversion (from Infrared to visible). These electronics could possibly enable you to SEE those frequencies without converting them to the conventional "visible" spectrumo (430-700nm). Imagine SEEing Infrared and/or UV.... new colours!!!!!!!!
      • In bright light the optical limits of the eye are already the bottleneck.

        As both the retina and lens system both evolved more or less simulatiously this is only to be expected.

        The point spread function primary and secondary peaks map onto two photoreceptors.

        In the dark the iris is larger, so the psf is larger.

        To get better vision would require adaptive optics (like used in telescopes) and we're not even sure if the brain could handle it ;)
    • Re:question (Score:3, Interesting)

      Absolutely seriously. My eyes aren't in that bad of shape, but they aren't exactly perfect either. Plus I can't see IR or UV. If bionic eyes were tested enough to be completely safe and healthy for the body, as well as 99.999% reliable (preferably 100%), they could be considered a reliable replacement. Add in a few features like integration into computing systems, switching between UV detection, IR detection, and traditional visible light detection, etc, and you would have some really awesome eyes. I would absolutely pick up a pair of these if they were cheap enough and fail safe enough. It would almost be a step toward Predator type systems, just get me a shoulder cannon and I'm all set :) . Just imagine being able to step up to a computer console and plug yourself in. Or even better, using secure IR signals (make sure to switch out of IR detection mode, heh) or WiFi signals. Add in a few memory modules, and you can carry all of your data with you. This would be great.
      • Re:question (Score:2, Interesting)

        by modecx ( 130548 )
        All hail Geordi LaForge, prince of nerdiness!

        Just Kidding :). Allthings aside, if they could not be snooped (Van Eck Phreaking a body is about the worst way you could violate a person, IMO), and could not be EMFed easily (and I mean that these things should stand so much gauss that my blood would disassemble first), I might just get some bionic eyes too.

        And, for the inner pervert in us, if these things could see IR well enough.. Well, just think about the Sony Handycam. Cheers!
    • Actually, this hits really close to home - my Dad had a retina become detached about six months ago, and it was very scary for him and for us while he recovered. Now he's concerned about his other eye, and if he'll be able to continue seeing. He's 54 years old, and is terrified of losing his sight. As for me, I have poor vision, and wonder if his retina problems will also befall me. I say push forward on this, so my Dad can continue to see his grandchildren.
    • Re:question (Score:3, Informative)

      by BWJones ( 18351 )
      As a retinal scientist who knows more than a bit about the problem, I am saying 30 years.

    • Seeing as how cochlear implants still suck compared to natural hearing, it'll be a while.

      (Although, FWIW, as soon as these things are approved for use, my wife will be getting them.)

  • Uh Oh... (Score:1, Funny)

    by NiftyNews ( 537829 )
    Maybe their super-vision can help add to the list of continuity errors in Spider-Man...
  • This is definitely cool stuff. Another step closer to cyborgs.

    They only mention that this has been tested on people that have lost their vision - wonder if it'd do anything for people born blind?

    I'd like to see more science articles like this on the front page of slashdot!
    • wonder if it'd do anything for people born blind? I dunno. My impression is no, since they have never seen and would not know how to interpret the signals. Your brain atrophies too, you know. But I could be wrong, since seeing might be an innate behavior.
      • by RFC959 ( 121594 )
        You're pretty much right. There's an article in the June issue of Discover [discover.com] (which the website does not yet acknowledge the existence of, oh well) about corneal repairs, and one man in particular, blind since age 3, who had his corneas repaired. And yes, although his eyes now should allow him to see fine, he can't interpret what he sees. (One interesting side effect: he's immune to certain optical illusions, because he never learned to interpret images in the way that gives rise to the illusion!) Studies have been done with animals, too, in which animals are blindfolded at birth and their eyes only uncovered after they've reached adulthood - and although their eyes are physically fine, they're unable to actually use their vision. "Seeing" seems to be mostly post-processing by the brain.
    • I think it would all depend on the reason they are blind.. if it's because of optical nerve dammage i doubt it but for retnal problems maybe.. the amazing thing is that they have microchips that can talk to nerve endings.. being someone who only has partial use of one foot because of nerve dammage in a car accident this is good news.. when you cut the nerves it extremly hard to get the nerve to transfer the electrical impulses properly again..but if they can make your retina see light again there is hope for other types of nerve endings in the body..i think this reaserch will help others regain the use of dammaged nerve endings..
  • I know a few calls where I would feel more comfortable if the refs had had these implants recently, if you know what I mean...
  • That there is no "blind-community" counterpart to the deaf-community that was up in arms about cochlear implants. Could you imagine Stevie wonder saying that these are bad things?
    • Re:Thank goodness (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That there is no "blind-community" counterpart to the deaf-community

      Rather, there is no apparent blind community to those who are not directly involved with it.

      Having blind family members, I can say that there is actually a very large blind community, which I believe is necessary. It is important to realize that people with certain types of disabilities have different struggles and lifestyles then the general population, and being involved with others who share the same experiences can definately help in making life a little easier and pleasent.

      Also from my experience, people who have been blind from birth or early childhood would likely not chose to have an implant/surgery to correct the blindness for a few reasons.

      First, those adults who were blind from birth have areas in the brain responsible for sight that are not developed because they have never used them. If one of these people were to undergo a operation to correct the blindness, the person's brain would still not be able to interperet the stimulus in a coherent manner. They would see, but they wouldn't understand what they were seeing.

      Second (even if the first was not an issue), could you imagine viewing the world in a certain manner, and then one day, having all your preconceptions about everything shatter?

      People who have been blind from birth have never seen(duh!), but they do however have an understanding about seeing (ie. colors, patterns, etc.). This differs from the actual experience of seeing as we know it, and taking those concepts away would be tramatic. Most people would be unable to cope with this.

      Lastly, this is part of who the person is no matter how much it is disliked or how much of an inconvience it is. It is accepted, much like other things that (for the most part) cannot be changed. Having a hatred for something that is a piece of one's self, that cannot easily be changed, is unhealthy. So is having false dreams about "miracles" or "cures".

      • I think you miss the point of the poster you replied to.

        What he's referring to is likely that there are significant groups in the deaf community that are heavily opposed to "fixing" deafness with implants or similar, and believe it should be left as is, and that to accept implants implies that being deaf isn't "normal". Some deaf groups even consider implants a treat to particular cultural elements of the deaf community.

        While I'm sure there are many blind people that would not personally want to use implants like these for whatever reason, the poster you replied to was implying that there is no strong element in the blind community that opposes such implants in principle.

      • I disagree. I'm (natch) totally ignorant of what it must be like to be blind, I don't even know any blind people - but if it were possible...

        ... I'd certainly be first in line to enhance *my* perceptual capabillities. I'd like to be able to see in infrared, have macro-zoom abillities (preferably stereoscopic), micromillimetre radar and some form of high-rez sonar. Why not?

        Oh, and there's prolly other stuff as well, like being able to sense electromagnetic fields(sp?)...
      • While much of your post is insightful, I think you make some assumptions that are questionable, if not perhaps outright wrong.

        This differs from the actual experience of seeing as we know it, and taking those concepts away would be tramatic. Most people would be unable to cope with this.

        People have their preconceptions shattered every day. You are right, it can be a very traumatic experience, but people can and do cope with it, often so well that they become more than they were previously as a result. I think you are wrong to asert that most people would be unable to cope with it. I'm not even sure most people would choose not to cope with it and remain blind, given the choice.

        Lastly, this is part of who the person is no matter how much it is disliked or how much of an inconvience it is.

        Being cancer prone, or obese, or having a sexual dysfunction is also a part of what a person is. People change, sometimes for the worse, hopefully for the better.

        Althoug I have no idea what it would be like to be blind, I can say with absolute certainty that if someone came along and offered to implant a Guizgovot(tm), that would offer me a new sense hitherto unknown to any life form on earth ("a gestalt sense of mean density of matter within two hundred miles, with acuity down to the molecular level accessible by different levels of concentration and focus, coupled or decoupled from the mean electromagnetic flux of the same" the advertisment might read) I would jump at the opportunity to enhance myself in such a way, even being relatively clueless as to how my mind would interpret such a sense, or what good it would do me. An opportunity to experience the world around me with a new and different sense, to sense it in a whole new way, would be a profoundly precious opportunity.

        It might change an aspect of who I am, and certainly become a part of who I am, but it by no means would denigrate my identity or eradicate who I was. Neither would getting a prosthetic eye to replace a dysfunctional one, any more than a wheelchair, or a walker, denigrates the identity of or changes who a person with said disability is.

        Deaf people who are objecting to devices that can cure deafness, which is by any reasonable definition a deficit or challenge, if not an outright disability, are simply luddite jackasses IMHO, and while deafness might be a blessing in some situations (a screeching el-train going by comes to mind as one) and sign language is something we all should probably learn anyway (I've often wished I could hold a conversation in sign language when hanging out in a loud bar, or, again, as a loud train goes by overhead), rejecting access to a new sense because you think it somehow denigrates others with the same disability is just plain Stupid.
    • Wish I had mod points. Wife is deaf blind (yes, for the third time in this story) and while she never got a load of shit from the deaf community, it's only because she flat out didn't give a fuck. She wanted implants.

      We talked about it: not only would the blind 'community' embrace this, they are likely to demand the federal government pay to install them on anybody who would benefit.
  • Soon we'll all be cyborgs and our hearts will be pumping with a motor, controlled by linux (would you trust your heart beat to windows?), running on an AMD system. Hmm.. i like it :)
    • Re:Cyborgs (Score:2, Funny)

      by ActiveSX ( 301342 )
      ...running on an AMD system

      Too bad we'd all die from heat exhaustion. Well, unless you want to have a liquid cooled rib cage.
      • Re:Cyborgs (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        With a perspex window body mod, a neon light strapped to my aorta and a shelf for the beer, I'd be happy to let that liquid cooling double as my go-anywhere bar fridge.
    • And we can use a P2P network to share our thoughts and make our own little Collective.
    • Heh, yet another tin foil hat thought from me. If cybornetic implants start to become popular, how long before governments and corporations start sneaking in little extras. I'd hate to have a heart with a EULA. ...or one with a gps transmiter that tells some Big Bro with personal issues and a sadistic streak where I am all the time and if I "deviate" from the norm. Then there are the maitenence fees with all that hardware. What is one going to do? Not pay if the price is too high? I can already feel an oversized, serated corporate/government robo-phallus invading my oversensitized bionic colon, if you catch my drift. I doubt it will be extreme, but I doubt it will be fun either.

      Another thing that bothers me. I keep making predictions, and I either denounce them myself before saying something or someone says I'm just paraniod (wearing a tin foil cap). Yet I see a bunch of the stuff I guessed happening. I seriously hope this doesn't.

      Bah, maybe I'm just paranoid for no good reason.

  • Improvements (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:24PM (#3488302) Journal
    How long until they offer an "improved" version, that has an overlaid clock/calendar, or just a HUD connected to the implanted, bone-conductive phone?

    How about that "cybog" professor and all the hassles he had getting past airport security. While these things are tiny, I can easily forsee a future whene implants are regulated country-by-country.

    "Sorry sir. Memory-storage implants are not legal in Canada. You must reboard the airplane."

    Johnny Mnemonic, here we come.
    • Yes, if you look very closely at these bionic eyes you will see the words "Zeiss-Ikon" etched onto the irises.

  • Solar powered eyes? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adporter ( 135648 )
    Optobionics is using the energy in the light to do this, which differs from alternatives (the epiretinal approach) which requires external power sources and are therefore big fat and clunky.

    Could this technology have a function in cameras?
    • I mean, I'm sure these things must build up some kind of reserve -- they wouldn't be practical otherwise -- but exactly how much light is required to charge up? Would a low-light condition (say, street lighting in a quiet neighborhood) be too low? Is so, how long before the eyes stop functioning?

      Still, interesting stuff.
  • I wonder... (Score:1, Funny)

    by maxmg ( 555112 )
    Will there be Linux drivers for those things?
    • not for 6 months, but that is only if the community stays on the ball and current. 12 month - a year and a half for full functionallity. Even then you can't get support from the maker.
  • Can it be DoS'd? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jon Howard ( 247978 ) <howard.jon@gmail.cPERIODom minus punct> on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:25PM (#3488306) Journal

    What kind of interference will upset the function of this device which wouldn't affect a normal eye? Can it be remotely manipulated in such a way as to malfunction or function in a way that a remote attacker may desire it to function?

    The fact that I have to ask these questions makes me hesitant to put electronics in my head, but I can imagine that the concern would be less for someone who couldn't see without them.

    • Yes but perhaps not in the way you think. While something like this has a possibility of being hacked, it will only be if someone puts backdoors into the low level hardware controlling the electrical signals along with the remote controller.

      Fortunately the eye works differently than the typical I/O interface. Retinal neurons adjust quickly to stimilation and adjust firing patterns. Just think how quickly your eyes adjust to stepping out into a dark room from the sunlight or vice versa. Any permanent damage to the eye is usually from something physical rather than electrical. You can only burn out your eyes from looking at the sun and it's UV or whatever.

      Also there is something called deploarization block in which the cell will simply not fire even if there is strong enough imput.

      The other big factor is that while all the signalling is coming from this mechanical interface, all the interpretation is done in the Occipital Lobe and we don't and I don't think ever will have a great enough understanding of the brain to hack it.
      • Yes but perhaps not in the way you think. While something like this has a possibility of being hacked, it will only be if someone puts backdoors into the low level hardware controlling the electrical signals along with the remote controller.

        You don't suppose that the different material it is made out of might be somewhat affected by properly patterned RF transmissions? I know that silicon is much more responsive to RF than the usual tissue in that area is, perhaps this could be used to give people UV or IR vision rather than (or in addition to) normal vision. Fascinating stuff either way.

        all the interpretation is done in the Occipital Lobe and we don't and I don't think ever will have a great enough understanding of the brain to hack it.

        I'm much more of an technological optimist in the sense that I disagree.

    • Well, i can think of a remote thingy that wouldn't bother me much. Imagine how much fun you could have had at class: looking at the board and teacher but seen some great pr0n "internally" :)
    • Exactly. My wife has RP, and would take a set of these in a heartbeat. Similarly, she has a cochlear implant. These types of questions were the LAST thing on her mind.

  • by dlek ( 324832 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:28PM (#3488315)
    It's nice to see technology that really improves people's lives, instead of possibly giving slight and ambiguous gains to their productivity or make it that much easier to send 10-word messages to other people within urban areas. I like advancements in 3d vid cards and such as much as the next guy, but this is what technology's really all about. Helping the blind see again? Excellent. I'd give back the Internet if it would find us a cure for cancer.
    • I'd give back the Internet if it would find us a cure for cancer.

      Forget giving it back... having it is more likely to find us a cure.

      Think of all the communication and collaboration that is now possible between researchers around the world. And think of the various distributed computing projects, that use Net-connected PCs to crunch numbers for biomedical research and other causes.
  • (-1, bc troll) "Chow said one patient, who has had the implant for nine months, saw his wife's face for the first time in years. The man, who previously could only see hand motions from four to five feet away, can now see cars from half a block away." a long time coming! cyborg implants enabling supervision look a whole lot closer. One question I would ask a patient is "how does it look?" do you have stereoscopic vision? Augemented 'fly-eye' vision? colour perception? Like a cure for cancer, I think we all know someone who will benefit from this.
  • Limited Potential (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jon_Katz (Paranoid F ( 578179 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:36PM (#3488346)
    While this indeed is a great innovation, we must remember that this has only been tested by people affected by retinitis pigmentosa. Whether the optical implants can be used to restore sight for people from eye injuries or other diseases remains to be seen.

    A lowdown on retinitis pigmentosa can be found here [demon.co.uk].
    • Re:Limited Potential (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mr_exit ( 216086 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @02:25AM (#3489065) Homepage
      WOW this is the greatest news I have heard all year.... it has totally made my day.

      Ok calm down... explanation time..

      I have had retina reatachment surgery 3 times in two years. this is where they take your eyes out, cut open the 6 rows of stiches in each eye and stick the retina back on. They dont know what is causing it (not bungee jumping or a car accident) and everytime it happens my retina gets a little more cut up and i have all sorts of weird stripes through my vision.

      Now you my say.. "tough luck, you have bad eyes, live with it" but you see my whole life is based arround my eyes. I am a visual effects artist for the movies (lately 3d modeling on a movie about a ring) my eyes are my livilyhood.

      And so the chance that they are one step closer to being able to replace them matters more to me then anything i have heard all year.

      So if this is the "limited potential" you are talking about mr katz then i'm not really sorry for getting excited for nothing
  • Links to stories on the same subject are here [optobionics.com]
  • How it's powered (Score:3, Interesting)

    by martyb ( 196687 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:40PM (#3488360)

    I was wondering how in the world it was powered. Come to find out, it's just a bunch of tiny solar cells according to
    this article [howstuffworks.com] at How Stuff Works [howstuffworks.com].
    The light coming into the eye is focused on the retina. Solar cells convert light to electricity. Electricity stimulates optic nerves. Voila --Sight!

    • by martyb ( 196687 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:56PM (#3488417)

      There's much more detail on the history, design, and development of the device in this EE times article [eetimes.com]. I was especially struck by how they persevered. They started on this in 1990 and things did not go entirely smoothly:

      "There were 50 to 75 major hurdles from the time we started," Vincent Chow said. "The biocompatibility side represented probably 40 percent of the issues. The other 60 percent were really in the electrical performance of our structures. That's because the final stimulation is an ionic stimulation. We're basically trying to interface a solar structure so that the microcurrents produced by the solar cell have a very high efficiency or functionality factor to stimulate the cells that are touching these particular areas."

      This version of the device contains about 3500 light detecting cells. If this version works out okay, they are planning to develop a much larger version of the chip.

      If the ASR chip is successful in restoring some degree of vision, Optobionics will make modifications to a final and significantly larger chip design. Some possible ideas, said Alan Chow, include placing openings in the chip to allow nourishment to flow between the outer and inner retina; and changing the direction of the electrical stimulation on an ongoing basis, a technique referred to as biphasic stimulation.

    • Environmental availability of light is not enough. You need to shine the equivalent of about 3X's the suns brightness into the eye to make it work adequately.

    • it's just a bunch of tiny solar cells
      So what you're saying is, in order to see, people need to look directly at the sun? Well shit, there goes a thousand years of mom's warnings down the drain.
  • by Hitokage_Nishino ( 182038 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @10:40PM (#3488361)
    There is an extremely interesting article in a recent Discover magazine about a man who was blind from the age of 2-3 recieving sight back in one eye thanks to stem cell implants.

    While after the operation he physically had 20/20 vision, he actually saw more along the lines of 20/500. The problem wasn't his eye, but his brain. He just hadn't learned how to fully percieve eyesight. One interesting note is that he does not perceive optical illusions. Since he's well past that critical stage of mental development when one is supposed to get it hardwired, he'll have a rough time getting his eyesight anywhere near normal. In fact, several other people who were blind as small children and had similar operations say they would rather be blind now.

    At any rate, while this will certainly be a great help to those who lost their sight as adults... it may not be of too much help to those born blind.
    • Perhaps not blind adults who lost sight as children -- but if this technology is developing sucessfully today ...

      Children NOW who lose their sight may never BECOME adults who lost their sight as children.

      Lose sight at 5, get chip at 6, return to normal life. (Extremly abridged version, minus all the "Learn to see again" stuff.)

      This is a wonderful innovation - even if its not for everyone, its a start. And everything has to start somewhere.

  • by copponex ( 13876 )
    Well, I'm sure you've all thought about it. Science can help the lame walk, help the mute communicate, and now it lets the blind see. I wonder how long the ultra-right can continue condemning science as evil.
  • bionics? (Score:1, Funny)

    by phaserx ( 574470 )
    bionic eyes to help the blind.. hrmm.. where's the line to sign up and test the bionic penis??
  • it is amazing how we live in an age where miracles are commonplace... im not religious, nor did I probably even spell it right. just saying that most of the stuff that jesus did can be done by modern science. Curing the blind (laser cataract sugery), the lame can walk (broken leg)... wouldn't such a thing as 'bionic retinas give patients sight' be regarded as a miracle even 100 years ago?
    let me restate, I have no religious affiliation...
    I vote lp
  • a read an article in popsci [popsci.com] that mentioned that new laser surgery being done to people with eye-problems, could be applied to people wiht perfect eye-sight to give them up to 20/10 vision!! (which means you see something that's 20 feet away, like it's 10 feet away) Are you thiking what i'm thinking pinky?
    • Re:laser surgery.... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by freeweed ( 309734 )
      It's a common fallacy to think that 20/20 vision is "perfect", and that anything better is somehow "miraculous". There are many people with better than 20/20 vision. Hell, I used to be one, until I hit puberty and started wearing glasses - really freaked my mom out to be told that I had better than 20/20 vision. Made me feel a bit freakish, truth be told.

      Also keep in mind that "seeing something 20 feet away like it's 10 feet away" just means you might see a tiny bit more detail - at 20/20 vision most people can see damn near perfectly out to a LONG distance. Really makes me wonder why someone with 20/20 vision would risk their eyesight just for a marginal improvement.

      On this note, anyone remember WHY they chose 20/20 as the standard? Was it arbitrary?

      • Yes, 20/20 is mostly arbitrary. The neumerator denotes the distance (in feet) the test is given at. (Usually 10 feet, but they use a mirror to double the distance to the standard 20 feet.) The denominator denotes the distance (in feet) at which the critical feature of the letters/numbers/shapes subtends one minute of visual angle. (Is that not a A answer, I'll find out on Friday)
        • (Is that not a A answer, I'll find out on Friday)

          The neumerator denotes the distance (in feet) the test is given at.

          I liked your post and would have probably moderated it up as "+1 Informative" myself, had I moderator points.

          However, it's lucky for you the test you vaguely refer to is not on English or Grammar. Your post could be AN A answer. I guess we'll all find out on Friday. (AT WHICH time you will receive your grade, I presume. :-)
      • Your question irked me then made me think. I would figure the reason 20/20 was considered "standard" was probably something along the lines of median statistical data. Start with the premise that 20/20 vision is the most commmon. 20/20 being a ratio that easily describes statistically common vision accuities. 20/20 IMPLIES that there can be better as well as worse kinds of vision, but that they are simply anomalous (not in a bad way).
      • They named it after the Television show, of course!
      • 20 feet is just a practical number I guess. Whether I can see detail past 20 feet isn't as important to daily functioning.

        20/10 woudl not mean 'a tiny bit more detail'.. it would mean I can read things twice as far away as I can now.
    • Avery morning on the radio i hear some baseball or football player explain how he got eye surgery and now his sight is better than 20/20 and it really improves his game.

      I would be really scared to go under the knife for unnecassary thing though. God might get mad that i am not happy with what he gave me and send me some complications.

    • i have 20/10 vision, its not all that its cracked up to be
  • ...a beowulf cluster of these?

    (well, someone had to say it)

    I wonder how long it'll take until we see NVidia and ATI try to sell us this kind of thing...

  • So how long before spyware comes with your retinas so that other people can monitor what you see? I'm all for medical breakthroughs, but what about privacy? I dunno... guess I'm too paranoid...
  • Here is an old link to his eye thing. Here [slashdot.org]
  • by xcomputer_man ( 513295 ) on Wednesday May 08, 2002 @11:50PM (#3488597) Homepage
    From the article:

    "For another patient, though, the implant has been a bit sobering, Chow said. The patient, who has begun to recognize faces, was disappointed to see how his own face had aged."

    I can almost hear those doctors now. "Dude. You've been blind for many years, you were chosen to have your sight restored by a groundbreaking scientific process, and the only thing you can think about is how old you are?

    Get back on that operating table, I'm gonna yank that damn chip out your eye..."

  • I don't know about you guys but this is deffinetly a step in the right direction. How close are we coming to creating synthetic eyeballs. Imagine people who have lost thier eyes might actually be able to see in the near future.

    If the electric impulses that are interprutted by the brain as sight, touch, etc. can be harnessed think about the newest forms os prosthetic hands android hands that actually work!!! this is fabulous....

    I can hardly wait to see more on this subject!!!
  • I'm rather pleasantly surprised that no one has made a Steve "6 Million Dollar Man" Austin reference yet. I mean... the word "BIONIC" was in the title. Could it be possible that the Slashdot reading masses are living up to the intelligent reputation of nerds? Or am I just overthinking this? ...it's a synthesis of both.
  • by BWJones ( 18351 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @12:34AM (#3488783) Homepage Journal
    OK, I am one of the scientists here at ARVO (Association for Research and Vision in Ophthalmology), and was present at the presentation of Dr. Chow.

    I for one would love to believe in the results, but I have not seen any real scientific proof that these things work as advertised. While the video of patients was impressive and touching, there is very little hard science behind the development of the bionic retina and how it is integrating into the retinal environment. The only thing that everyone appears to be reporting on is that the chip is not rejected. And there are other more fundamental issues at work. For one, the silicon retinas require the equivalent of 3X's the brightness of the sun to activate the device and for realistic performace, they would require an external power source. The other issue is that the retinal circuitry that they are placing this bionic implant onto is severely degenerated and remodeled in these patients and may continue to degenerate further, thus complicating matters. That said, there is some indication that the surgery itself may cause some retinal rescue, not the implant. This is something they have not done control experiments on. Furthermore, the generation of low voltage current from the implant in the retina may be promoting retinal recovery of sorts while the silicon retina may not be doing anything for vision itself.

    We are still a looooong ways away from the idea of a bionic retina and I think that retinal implants will actually be the least effective method in the long run. Gene therapy, viral infective methods, stem cells, and post retinal bionics will probably work optimally sooner.

  • Here's a link [caltech.edu] to the bionic retina implants in action.
  • Well, anything's better than having to wear a woman's hairpiece [startrek.com] over your eyes.
  • Sobering Thoughts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hyrdra ( 260687 ) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @04:50AM (#3489336) Homepage Journal
    Isn't amazing how fast technology moves? Remember Jordy from Star Trek? He used that big visor thing to restore his vision, and this is what writers thought would be the technology in the 24th century. Here we are in 2002, and we have a solar powered eye chip that can be implanted into the eye to give people some of their sight back, with no discomfort.

    Sure, it isn't perfect and it's only version .1 but as others have mentioned how long before this changes and version 4.0 is out with default 20/15 vision and zoom controls?

    Just step back and realize what an accomplishment this is and how fast technology changes everyday. It's almost scary to think what life will be like when I turn 60.

    Reminds me of something my Great Grandfather said: "I've seen the world come from stage coach to walking on the moon; nobody will ever lead that kind of life again."

    Well if this is the case I would think the rate of progression will disprove this. It's amazing to think we will all outlive the advancements that occured during his lifetime, but we probably will.

    This article just reaffirms that notion.
  • Once again... real science beats Star Trek's proposed date and time for new toys :)
  • Think about the long term implications of bionic retinas/eyes and other cybernetic enhancements.

    The current MPAA won't like that.

    Or if they manage to get it the way they like it, you won't like it.


Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.