The world witnessed a great advancement in this field early this month when ARGUS – II went on to become the 8 millionth patent in United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). ARGUS – II is a visual prosthesis apparatus that enhances visual perception for people who have gone blind due to outer retinal degeneration. It has been patented by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc. which already holds 90 U.S. patents surrounding technology associated with sight restoration for the blind and treatment of a variety of other medical conditions.
The signing and presentation of U.S. Patent No. 8,000,000 by Director Kappos took place at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on September 8, 2011. The inventors behind this historic patent are Greenberg, Robert J. Greenberg, the President and CEO of Second Sight (Los Angeles, CA, US), Kelly H. McClure (Simi Valley, CA, US) and Arup Roy (Valencia, CA, US).
Technically: In a healthy eye, the photoreceptors (rods and cones) on the retina convert light into tiny electrochemical impulses that are sent through the optic nerve and into the brain, where they are decoded into images. If the photoreceptors no longer function correctly, the first step in this process is disrupted and the visual system cannot transform light into images, causing blindness.
ARGUS – II is designed to bypass the damaged photoreceptors altogether. A miniature video camera housed in the patient’s glasses sends information to a small computer worn by the patient where it is processed and transformed into instructions transmitted wirelessly to a receiver in an implanted stimulator. The signals are then sent to an electrode array, attached to the retina, which emits small pulses of electricity. These electrical pulses are intended to bypass the damaged photoreceptors and stimulate the retina’s remaining cells to transmit the visual information along the optic nerve to the brain.
Arup Roy, the Indian among the three innovators did his schooling from Calcutta Boy’s school. He wants to bring ARGUS – II to his country in near future. According to him the best part of Argus II is it grows with the wearer. He quotes “The brain is plastic. Its beauty lies in its ability to change itself at any age and wake up to newer images by virtue of its sheer flexibility. And as it does, its owner will keep rediscovering the utilities of the device.”
As of now the cost of ARGUS – II is $100,000 which brings it to Rs. 46 Lakhs (approx) in Indian currency. Arup Roy admits it to be very high as per the Indian markets but we all know, the cost of eyesight is priceless and will still be useful for millions. The product has been tested and verified on as many as 30 blind patients and the best result was a blind man could read sentences.
Some of the key features are:
•Most clinical experience of any retinal prosthesis ever developed
•Improvements in ability to perform visual tasks demonstrated in many patients
•Upgradable hardware and software to benefit from future innovations
•Minimal time from implantation to first system use and use at home
•Implant is compatible with MRI testing
•Video processor with adjustable settings for individual preferences, for example:
•20° maximum possible field of view
•Can be compared to a 30 cm (12 in.) ruler held out at arm’s length
•Audible signals that provide information on system functionality