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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Doctors fight blindness with eye implant
Eye surgery
Surgeons could restore the sight of those with retinal disease
Doctors have implanted artificial retinas into the eyes of three patients who had lost almost all of their vision.

The surgery was carried out at the end of June by doctors in Chicago.

They will know within the next few weeks if the pioneering operation has been a success.

The procedure has been hailed as the first step in humans of efforts to be able to restore sight in blind people.

Professor Jose Pulido, professor and head of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said: "We've completed the first part of our journey to the Holy Grail of restoring eyesight to the blind."

Doctors began the operation by making three tiny incisions in the white part of the patient's eye.

Through these incisions, they used a miniature cutting and vacuum device to remove the gel in the middle of the eye and replaced it with saline.

They then made a pinpoint opening in the retina through which they injected fluid to lift up a portion of the retina from the back of the eye.

This created a small pocket in the "subretinal space", through which the Artificial Silicon Retina (ASR) could beplaced.

Microchip

The ASR is a silicon microchip, measuring about one-tenth of an inch in diameter and one-thousandth of an inch thick.

It contains approximately 3,500 microscopic solar cells that convert light into electrical impulses.



We've completed the first part of our journey to the Holy Grail of restoring eyesight to the blind

Prof Jose Pulido, University of Illinois at Chicago

The purpose of the chip is to replace damaged photoreceptors, the "light-sensing" cells of the eye, which normally convert light into electrical signals within the retina.

Loss of photoreceptor cells occurs as a result of retinitis pigmentosa and other retinal diseases. All three patients who underwent the operation, had lost almost all of their vision because of retinal disease and two needed guide dogs to get around.

The microchip was invented by one of the doctors who performed the surgery, Dr Alan Chow.

Dr Chow said the operations, which were carried out as part of a US Food and Drug Administration study, were successful.

"In this study, we are evaluating the safety and feasibility of the ASR by placing a small version of the implant in a side portion of the retina," said Dr Chow.

"The operations to place the implants in this location were all successfully completed.

"We hope that if the implants are able to stimulate the retina, patients may develop some degree of vision over the location of the implant within the next month."

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