FDA approves device bringing sight to the blind


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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Argus II retinal prosthesis system for use in the United States.

Mark Humayun, who holds joint appointments at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, was a key member of the team that developed the device, which will be available to qualified patients at the Keck Medical Center of USC.

The Argus II, which received a unanimous recommendation for approval by the FDA’s Ophthalmic Devices Advisory Panel in September, restores some visual capabilities for patients whose blindness is caused by Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an inherited retinal degenerative disease that affects about 100,000 people nationwide.

"It is incredibly exciting to have FDA approval to begin implanting the Argus II and provide some restoration of vision to patients blinded from RP," said Humayun, Cornelius Pings Professor of Biomedical Sciences and professor of ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, cell and neurobiology at USC. In the patients that have been implanted to date, the improvement in the quality of life has been invaluable.

"The fact that many patients can use the Argus implant in their activities of daily living, such as recognizing large letters, locating the position of objects and more, has been beyond our wildest dreams," Humayun added, "yet the promise to the patients is real, and we expect it only to improve over time."

The Argus II, which is manufactured by Sylmar, Calif.-based Second Sight, was approved for use in Europe in 2011 and has been implanted in 30 patients in a clinical trial that began in 2007. Humayun performed many of the surgeries to implant the device.

The FDA approval paves the way for Second Sight to build a surgical network in the United States to implant the device, as well as to recruit hospitals to offer it, according to Robert Greensburg, president and CEO of the company.

The Argus II system uses a camera mounted on special glasses that sends a signal to an electronic receiver with 60 electrodes implanted inside the eye.

The receiver sends signals to the retina that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, where they can be interpreted as a visual picture. The researchers hope that one day the device can be improved to also help individuals with age-related macular degeneration, a similar but far more common disease.

As the Argus II retinal implant is refined, it will be housed in the USC Institute of Biomedical Therapeutics. The new $60 million endowed interdisciplinary institute will bring together scientists, engineers and clinicians from around the world to study neural networks to develop bioelectronic solutions for the millions of people impacted by traumatic brain injury, stroke and debilitating eye diseases.

Funding for the development of the device came from the National Eye Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and private investment.

Additional Sources:

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