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Retinal implant

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  • A retinal implant is a biomedical implant technology currently being developed by a number of private companies and research institutions worldwide. Retinal implant is an electrode/ photo electrode array that is implanted adjacent to the retina. The implant is meant to partially restore useful vision to people who have lost their vision due to degenerative eye conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa or macular degeneration.
  • There are two types of retinal implants currently in clinical trials: Epiretinal Implants (on the retina) and Subretinal Implants (behind the retina). Retinal implants provide subject with low resolution images by electrically stimulating retinal cells. Such images may be sufficient for restoring specific visual abilities, such as light perception and object recognition.
  • Clinical reports to date have demonstrated mixed success, with all patients report at least some sensation of light from the electrodes, and a smaller proportion gaining more detailed visual function, such as identifying patterns of light and dark areas.
  • The clinical reports indicate that, even with low resolution, retinal implants are potentially useful in providing crude vision to individuals who otherwise would not have any visual sensation. However, clinical testing in implanted subjects is somewhat limited and the majority of spatial resolution simulation experiments have been conducted in normal controls. It remains unclear whether the low level vision provided by current retinal implants is sufficient to balance the risks associated with the surgical procedure, especially for subjects with intact peripheral vision.
  • Several other aspects of retinal implants need to be addressed in future research, including the long term stability of the implants and the possibility of retinal neuron plasticity in response to prolonged stimulation.
  • In most cases of retinal degeneration, the photoreceptors degenerate while a large number of the other nerve cells in the retina remain intact . This is also true for the ganglion cells which form the output cells
    of the retina. If the output cells of the retina are intact and can be stimulated electrically, artificial excitation of visual sensations is possible. An artificial retina has achieved real success in bringing limited sight to the blind.
  • The Department of Energy estimates that 6 million Americans are blind because their retinas have been damaged by diseases like macular degeneration. Worldwide they estimate that 25 million people have been made blind and that this number will rise to 50 million by 2020.
  • A patient named Terry spotted the shadow of his 18 year-old son as he passed by on a sidewalk. “It was the first time I’d seen anything of him since he was 5 years old,” Terry told Artificial Retina News, a publication of the Artificial Retina Project.
  • The third generation model is already in the works and promises much better vision by interfacing with the brain using a  1,000 electrode array vs the 60 electrode array used in the Argon II.
  • All of the patients implanted so far with the Argus™ II system had bare light perception or worse vision before the surgery. Averaging 56.8 years, their ages range from 28 to 77 years. The median surgery time for the implant procedure in the United States is 3 hours.
  • Synchronized stimulation of different retinal locations with an epiretinal prosthesis implanted longterm can produce spatial vision with an acuity level determined by the distance between the electrodes.

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