Wearable Tech World Feature Article
January 30, 2014

Life-Changing Wearable Tech: Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Finally Brings Light of Day to Patients

Back in March of 2013, we first covered Second Sight's Argus II Bionic Eye, which we referred to then as wearable technology of the third kind - a wearable tech platform with the ability to deliver serious medical benefits and truly life-altering possibilities. Our coverage followed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving the device for use last year.

Following our initial coverage, we invited Second Sight to speak at our 2013 Summer Wearable Technology Conference. Second Sight provided many in our audience with insights they had not all really thought about, especially in terms of the way wearable technology is able to not only lead to better lives but to also extend human lives in truly amazing ways - such as restoring real sight. The video below is of that Argus II session from our conference.

Ten months later, we are able to follow up our coverage with the Argus II finally reaching its very first two patients in the United States. Both patients received their retinal surgeries at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center - one of 12 Centers of Excellence around the country certified to offer the surgery. The first was performed on January 16, 2014 and the second on January 22. Thiran Jayasundera, M.D., and David N. Zacks, M.D., Ph.D., performed the surgeries for the patients, each of which was suffering with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative and blinding eye disease.

We detailed how the full Argus II platform works and how it helps people suffering from RP in our earlier article. Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited retinal degenerative disease that causes slow but progressive vision loss due to a gradual loss of the light-sensitive retinal cells called rods and cones. Patients with RP experience gradual but inevitable loss of side vision and night vision, and later central vision, which often results in near-blindness.

To be eligible to receive the retinal prosthesis at this point in time, target patients must be 25 years of age or older and must have been diagnosed with end-stage retinitis pigmentosa that has progressed to the point of having bare light or no light perception in both eyes. RP typically affects people who have always been able to see - literally going "into the dark" is a hugely traumatic experience (at least we ourselves imagine it is). Many people begin suffering from the disease at later stages of life, at a time when it becomes extremely difficult to adapt to the condition, leading to enormous suffering, depression, and an inability to move ahead.

This set of highly disquieting resulting conditions from the disease is what makes the Argus II such a hugely compelling and truly life-saving device. There is no hyperbole here - when we say in our headline that it "brings the light of day" we truly mean this is what it does. There is a learning curve of course - the Argus II is not activated until the patient has sufficiently recovered from surgery. The patient then undergoes training to adapt to the new vision, a process that can take from one to three months.

(Click to enlarge)

Linda Schulte is the patient who received the first implant. Schulte was first diagnosed with RP when she was in her 40s. Now at the age of 65, Schulte looks forward to the Argus II allowing her to travel and live a normal life - the most important part of which will be - she hopes - the ability to see her 10 grandchildren. Life-changing? You bet!

As we pointed out in our earlier article, the Argus II doesn't magically restore full sight - at least not yet, but it brings people back out of the dark. For Linda Schulte this is a miracle and she notes, “I understand that I will not have 20/20 vision and that I won’t be able to distinguish faces. But at least I will be able to know that my grandchildren are running across the yard or walking into my house. That would be a miracle to me."

Dr. Jayasundera, who is an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Michigan Medical School, says, “We are pleased with both patients’ progress at this point, and we are hopeful and optimistic that the artificial retina will enable them to see objects, light and people standing before them. We believe the device will help them navigate a little better at home, be more independent, and have the pleasure of seeing things that the rest of us take for granted.”

We agree fully with Linda Schulte - it is a miracle. As well as a demonstration of the ways wearable technology will truly change lives.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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