Giving sight to the blind

Robert Greenberg was doing medical research at the Alfred Mann Foundation when an investor in Mann's cochlear implant company, Advanced Bionics, asked Greenberg to create a similar implant for blind people. Since Greenberg founded Second Sight in Sylmar, California, in 1998, the company has been developing the Argus II, a retinal implant that receives images taken with a video camera mounted on eyeglasses. The images are converted into electronic signals by a processor and wirelessly transmitted to a receiver implanted on the eye. The receiver sends the data through a cable to an array of electrodes, which emit electric pulses that activate cells in the retina, which then sends signals through the optic nerve to the brain. Patients interpret the resulting patterns as low-resolution black-and-white images. Second Sight is testing the Argus II on 32 people in North America and Europe. The company plans to go to market in Europe in 2010 and is seeking FDA approval in the U.S. The next hurdle will be to persuade health insurance carriers to cover the device, which will cost $100,000.

Eye opener

The camera for the Argus II is just above the nosepiece on the glasses. The system is designed for people with severe retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition that afflicts roughly two million people worldwide.