Retinal implant restores sight to the blind

German scientists have developed a chip which can be implanted behind the retina to restore sight to blind people.

The 1,500-electrode chip has been trialled on 11 people, three of whom had it implanted in the central macular region. Of these, two suffered from an inherited form of blindless called retinitis pigmentosa, and the third from a related condition called Choroideraemia.

All 11 patients reported that the chip allowed them to distinguish light from dark. But the three who received it in the central macular region showed the biggest improvement.

One patient was able to read text and distinguish between seven shades of grey.

“The stellar results achieved during our first clinical trial validate our subretinal approach to implantation which we believe is the key to restoring useful vision for patients blind by retinitis pigmentosa,” said Walter-G Wrobel, CEO of Retina Implant AG.

“As we continue on with our second clinical trial, we look forward to expanding on the lessons learned during our first trial by following patients as they return home.”

The chip works by converting the light that enters the eye into an electrical signal that is then fed directly into the optic nerve. Unlike similar systems from Second Sight and MIT, it doesn’t require the patient to be fitted with an external camera.

Retina Implant plans to expand the trial to other European countries including the UK and Italy, giving patients a permanent implant.