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Retinal Device Restores Sight to Blind Mice
Date:8/13/2012

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report they have developed in mice what they believe might one day become a breakthrough for humans: a retinal prosthesis that could restore near-normal sight to those who have lost their vision.

That would be a welcome development for the roughly 25 million people worldwide who are blind because of retinal disease, most notably macular degeneration.

The notion of using prosthetics to combat blindness is not new, with prior efforts involving retinal electrode implantation and/or gene therapy restoring a limited ability to pick out spots and rough edges of light.

The current effort takes matters to a new level. The scientists fashioned a prosthetic system packed with computer chips that replicate the "neural impulse codes" the eye uses to transmit light signals to the brain.

"This is a unique approach that hasn't really been explored before, and we're really very excited about it," said study author Sheila Nirenberg, a professor and computational neuroscientist in the department of physiology and biophysics at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York City. "I've actually been working on this for 10 years. And suddenly, after a lot of work, I knew immediately that I could make a prosthetic that would work, by making one that could take in images and process them into a code that the brain can understand."

Nirenberg and her co-author Chethan Pandarinath (a former Cornell graduate student now conducting postdoctoral research at Stanford University School of Medicine) report their work in the Aug. 14 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their efforts were funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Cornell University's Institute for Computational Biomedicine.

The study authors explained that retinal diseases destroy the light-catching photoreceptor cells on the retina'
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