LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Thirty-nine million people worldwide are living in total darkness … legally blind. Many of them lost their vision from accidents or disease. Now, a breakthrough device is shining a new light and allowing them to see like never before with artificial vision.
Bungee jumping, sky diving, baseball … you could say Jason Esterhuizen lives for the thrill of it. Even when that thrill is experienced in total darkness!
“I try and take up any opportunity that comes my way,” shared Jason.
Almost nine years ago, a horrific car crash destroyed Jason’s eyes.
“I went up through the sunroof. I lost my right eye, my left eye, my optic nerve got torn, I broke my eye socket, my nose, my jaw at the top, at the bottom, my temple, my cheekbone and my skull,” Jason explained.
Jason was told he would never see again.
“Medicine won’t be able to fix this for you,” Jason said.
But maybe technology can.
Jason is now seeing the light. He is the second person in the world using an experimental device called Orion.
“We’re giving people artificial vision,” Nader Pouratian, MD, PhD, Neurosurgeon, UCLA Health, told Ivanhoe.
Images are captured by a tiny video camera mounted on sunglasses – converted into a series of electrical pulses. The pulses stimulate a set of 60 electrodes implanted on top of the cortex which results in Jason perceiving patterns of light.
“Little white dots on a black background,” Jason explained.
Dr. Pouratian said, “They can see the flashes of lights and patterns that they can then interpret and use in everyday life.”
“From 50 feet away, I might just see two or three dots and as it moves closer, I see more and more and more and more dots. I know something’s coming towards me,” Jason said.
Giving Jason more confidence and a newfound hope for his future.
“It’s mind boggling to think that this is even technologically possible,” exclaimed Jason.
Six people have received the implant so far. UCLA has currently placed the trial on hold due to COVID-19 but intends to continue it in the future. The device is geared to people who used to be able to see but lost their vision to injury or disease and has the potential to restore useful vision to patients blinded by glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cancer, and trauma.
Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.
VISION BREAKTHROUGH: HELPING THE BLIND TO SEE
BACKGROUND: Blindness is the state or condition of being unable to see because of injury, disease, or congenital condition. Around 26.9 million Americans 18 and older are reported to have experienced vision loss. Of those, 16.4 million are women and 10.5 million are men. There are several different levels of blindness. Functional limitation refers to the interaction of visual functioning and ability to perform activities of daily living. Legal blindness refers to a medically diagnosed central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less. Low vision describes a person who has measurable vision but has difficulty accomplishing or cannot accomplish visual tasks even with prescribed corrective lenses. Total blindness refers to an inability to see anything with either eye. An individual has vision loss when they have trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. Visual impairment, or disability, is a term that encompasses both those who are blind and those with low vision. Additional factors influencing visual impairment are contrast sensitivity, light sensitivity, glare sensitivity, and light/dark adaptation.
SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT: The common symptom of people who are blind or have visual impairment is difficulty seeing. If a person is born blind, there is less adjustment to a non-seeing world than there is for someone who loses their vision late in life. Some associated symptoms, such a discomfort in the eyes, awareness of the eyes, foreign body sensation, and pain in the eyes or discharge from the eyes may be present or absent, depending on the underlying cause of the blindness. Blindness is diagnosed by testing each eye individually and measuring the visual acuity and visual field, or peripheral vision. An ophthalmologist is the specialist who diagnoses and teats eye disease. The treatment depends on the cause of the visual impairment or blindness. People who have poor vision due to refractive error can be prescribed glasses to help the problem. Dietary changes can help those who have nutritional causes of blindness. Cataracts cause blindness for millions of people in the world. In most cases, cataract surgery may restore their sight. Inflammatory and infectious causes of blindness can be treated with medication in the form of drops or pills. And, corneal transplantation may help people whose vision was affected by corneal scarring.
STEM CELL TREATMENT BEAKTHROUGH: Research is being conducted to see if stem cells taken from the eyes of non-living donors can be used to cure blindness. Researchers from Scotland are still working to perfect the technique. All the patients who received treatment had drastic improvements in vision, with some recovering faster than others. Treatment was able to help with blindness caused by damage to the cornea. The focus was on limbal stem cells which are instrumental to vision, and usually at low levels in those suffering from corneal blindness. Sixteen patients were split into two groups. One group received transplant tissue along with eyes drops and immune system suppressing drugs to reduce the risk of rejection. Everyone in that group had significant improvement to their eyesight over a period of a year and a half. Baljean Dhillion of the University of Edinburgh says, “Findings from this study are promising and show potential for safe stem cell eye surgery and improvement in eye repair.”
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