New Retinal Device May Give Hope To The Blind

(CBS) — A blind man can see light for the first time in 20 years, all thanks to a revolutionary device being researched right here at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

CBS 2’s Marissa Bailey explains how it could change the lives of the blind.

This is no regular eye doctor’s appointment.

This is Bob Selby’s first check-up since Dr. Jennifer Lim at UIC implanted the groundbreaking retinal device called the Argus II.

“I’ve been legally blind my whole life, really,” Selby says.

The 55-year-old was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa. He was diagnosed in his 20s and completely blind by 35.

“The part of the retina that doesn’t work is the part of the retina that gathers the light. The photoreceptors are dead but the inner retina works,” Dr. Lim explains.

Selby’s device was implanted in October and then turned on in November. That’s when he saw light flashes for the first time in more than 20 years.

“Now he can see edge and contrast effects and can pick people out, but before he didn’t know where they were unless they would say something,” Lim says.

Here’s how the device works: The lens on Selby’s glasses transmits an image through a video processor box. It wirelessly sends instructions to the implant on Selby’s eye. Those messages stimulate Selby’s retina to send signals along the optic nerve to his brain, which allows him to see.

Within minutes of turning on the device, Selby was navigating unfamiliar hallways by himself.

“Wow! I’ve never been so happy to see a wall before,” he said that day.

Selby calls the technology a “game-changer.”

“For patients, it’s huge. To be able to see light and then not only to see the light but to have the light mean something,” Lim adds.

Selby practices with his new found sight a couple of hours a day.

He says if he can see light flashes now, this may be the beginning of the end for blindness.

“Imagine what they could do in five to 10 years,” he says.

Selby is one of only 60 people in the world with this FDA-approved retinal implant. UIC is one of 13 sites in the U.S. where it’s being used.

The Argus II is now being studied in Europe for people with macular degeneration.

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