4 May 2012

Tiny implant restores partial sight

8:32 am on 4 May 2012

Two British men who have been blind for many years have had part of their vision restored by pioneering surgery.

The men are part of a clinical trial carried out at the Oxford Eye Hospital and King's College Hospital in London, the BBC reports.

Electronic chips were fitted behind the patients' retinas allowing them to see light and the outline of some shapes.

The men, Chris James and Robin Millar, lost their vision due to a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, where the photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye gradually cease to function.

One of the men, Robin Millar, told the BBC he can now locate windows and lightbulbs because he gets a flashing light, almost like a radar, in front of his eyes.

"It's fantastic," he said. "I have been dreaming in colour since I had the implant, having not dreamed in colour for 30 years."

Chris James said there was a magic moment when the implant was switched on for the first time and he saw flashing lights.

Trial co-leader Professor Robert MacLaren said the results might not seem extraordinary to the sighted, but for a totally blind person to be able to orientate themselves in a room, and perhaps know where the doors and windows are, would be extremely useful and of practical help.

The surgery involves placing a tiny chip containing 1500 light-sensitive pixels behind the retina from where a fine cable runs to a control unit under the skin behind the ear.