Advances in technology may enable scientists to develop an implantable eye "chip" to treat some types of blindness within the next 10 to 20 years, Johns Hopkins researchers said a Baltimore press conference on December 8. The briefing was spurred by recent media reports that musician Stevie Wonder was considering getting the "eye chip" to restore his sight. The researcher explained that the device works by stimulating a small area of the retina electrically by passing electric current into the eye, kind of like the way a pacemaker would stimulate the heart to beat. The brain then interprets that neural activity of the retina as vision, as light sensation.
There is significant proof of concept in the sense of patients being able to see at least in short periods of time things like letters and forms like boxes. We think that what we have to do now is solve the problem of putting it in the eye over a long period of time. Candidates for the chip include those with diseases of the retina, such as macular degeneration or retinal pigmentosa. This would include 2 million people in the US. To date, the longest a chip has been implanted in a patient is about 45 minutes to one hour. The obstacles to overcome include the development of heat and avoiding damage to the computer chip from salts in the eye fluids. Researchers know that on a temporary basis that they can stimulate the retina, but they don't know over a long period of time if the amount of energy that will be required or if they will be able to be tolerated in a patient's eye.
One of the concerns is that as we put in more pixels or more energy into the eye that there would be more heat put into the eye. Just like your computer can get hot and even burn you, that's one of the concerns, as the technology gets better there's more efficient use of the electronics so that we have less heat. Another problem, is putting a computer chip into the relatively salty atmosphere of eye fluids.
COMMENT: Continuing on the technology and eye theme this article gives us some of the hurdles that scientists are facing as they attempt to develop an artificial eye. It does appear likely though that they will have some success in the not to distant future. One of the main indications for this implant though would be age related macular degeneration. Fortunately there are far better options for that right now. High quality antioxidants, especially those that have the pigments from dark staining fruits, like blueberries and blackberries are likely to be particularly helpful at not only preventing, but also treating the most common form of blindness.