Thursday is when day I spend time reading grocery store weekly specials to the visually impaired on the Audible Local Ledger Radio Network. The 40 minute drive to Mashpee from my house in Harwich allows me to get the sleep out of my eyes and to recognize how lucky I am those eyes can see. Unlike other physical disabilities, visual impairment is not obvious to others so we go through our lives unaware of the struggles of those around us.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday approved a breakthrough treatment which restores limited vision in people with retinitis pigmentosa. The device is the Argus II, an artificial retinal transplant consisting of 60 electrodes which pick up pixelized patterns recorded in special eyeglasses, transmit them to a video processor worn on a belt and send by electrodes to the brain. The 1970's television show "The Bionic Man", was astonishingly foretelling of where medicine and science was going.
The Argus II is made by Second Sight Medical Products. It doesn't restore anything close to good vision. But it's ability to allow for contrast between light objects and dark, and to identify general shapes is an enormous improvement for those who cannot see anything at all.
Approximately 100,000 people have retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition characterized by the deterioration of photoreceptor cells, the part of the eye which takes in light. FDA approval is the very beginning of this cyborg solution to visual impairment. Eventually scientists expect the device will be implanted directly into the brain to allow improvement in a variety of causes of blindness.
I would love to be "put out of business" of reading grocery store sale prices to the visually impaired on the radio. I'd prefer to have a friendly chat in the produce section where these shoppers could see well enough to check on the prices with their own healthy vision.
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