Today's the kind of day when you can see the future. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first treatment that can restore (limited) eyesight to (some) blind people. Despite the caveats, it's an exciting milestone.
The treatment involves electrodes implanted in the eyes of people whose retinas are damaged. The FDA approved the implants for people with severe cases of retinitis pigmentosa, a relatively small patient population. But the company that makes the implants, Second Sight Medical Products, says they can benefit a much broader group of people with vision problems, including many elderly people who suffer from macular degeneration.
IEEE Spectrum covered the technology in "Birth of the Bionic Eye." Click through to that article for all the technical details of how the retinal implant system works, and what the experience of wearing one was like for one test subject, Barbara Campbell (pictured at right).
That article was part of our "Top Tech 2012" special report based on Second Sight's optimistic predictions that it would win FDA approval for the implants in the year 2012. So the company is a couple of months behind schedule in the United States, but its implants have been on the market in Europe since 2011.
Second Sight isn't the only company working on retinal prostheses. We've also described a competing technology from the German company Retina Implant AG, whose system was undergoing clinical trials last year.
Photos: Second Sight, David Yellin