This is not science fiction. The future is closer than we think. Dr. José-Alain Sahel, chairman of Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology and director of UPMC Eye Center plans to treat blindness caused by diseases such as glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration by his research centred around three approaches:
1. Cameras and processors which convert light energy into impulses which can be perceived by the brain.
2. Genetic therapies which enhance sensing and processing of light.
3. Stem cell therapy to grow new photoreceptors of the retina.
Sahel hopes to begin clinical trials within a year for a more advanced system, known as the IRIS II, that he developed at the Vision Institute. The IRIS II implant has more electrodes to create a clearer picture, uses a solar panel to power itself and relies on a safer surgery to implant, he said. It was designed with diamond, titanium and a new, ultra-light and strong material called graphene to better interface with neural tissue in the retina, he said.
Dr. Sahel says “My focus is patients. All the research I do is for patients. There is no discontinuity. There is absolutely no gap between the research and the patient activity.”
[Image by Jan Kalab / CC BY 2.0]