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Vol. LXIII, No. 20
September 30, 2011

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Funded by NEI, Makers of Bionic Eye Receive 8 Millionth Patent

Dr. Julia Drake (r) leads a tour of a surgical suite for a group of high school students from the Program for Academic and Leadership Skills (PALS).
Dr. Robert J. Greenberg (l), Second Sight’s president and CEO, displays honor from the U.S. patent office with Barbara Campbell, who benefits from his company’s device ( shown below at right).

The Argus II retinal prosthesis, developed by Second Sight, Inc., with funding from the National Eye Institute, was recently recognized in honor of being the 8 millionth patent issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Argus II is a device that restores limited sight to the blind.

“I’d like to thank Second Sight for inspiring us all to keep dreaming, testing, experimenting and patenting—and for demonstrating that patented American ingenuity will continue to drive our nation’s growth,” said David J. Kappos, USPTO director, at the celebration that took place at the original U.S. patent office building, once known as the “temple of invention” and now occupied by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Argus II consists of a miniature video camera, inconspicuously mounted on a pair of sunglasses. A belt-worn processing unit converts images captured by the camera into electrical impulses that are wirelessly transmitted to a 60-electrode grid implanted in the eye. Users perceive the electrical impulses as patterns of light that produce visual information.

“I feel like I won my own personal lottery,” said Argus II user Barbara Campbell, recounting the invitation to participate in a clinical trial of the device. She has been using the device to get around Manhattan, where she works as a rehabilitation counselor at the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Campbell has a genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which causes gradual decline of vision due to death of photoreceptor cells. She has been wearing the Argus II device for about 3 years. She said the device greatly increases her mobility and safety, allowing her to see crosswalk lines and find her bus stop. Campbell told the audience she can even read large print.

Bionic Eye Glasses

“Second Sight’s retinal prosthesis is giving improved mobility and independence to people who are blind from RP and have no other options for restoring any of their vision,” said Dr. Paul Sieving, NEI director. “It is encouraging to see this highly innovative technology being used to help people with their activities of daily living.”

“One important component of our ability to accomplish this goal has been direct government support from the National Eye Institute. This would not have been possible without government grant support,” said Dr. Robert J. Greenberg, Second Sight’s president and CEO. His company now holds 90 patents related to sight restoration. Since 2001, NEI has contributed more than $26 million to Second Sight for development of the Argus II and associated technologies. The investment has not only rendered the world a device to help the blind see but also has pushed the field of bioengineering by providing novel materials and techniques for interfacing prosthetic devices with the central nervous system.

The Argus II was approved for sale in Europe earlier this year and is expected to be approved soon by the FDA. The device will sell for about $100,000. Second Sight is currently developing a next-generation 256-electrode retinal grid that should give users much greater resolution. NIHRecord Icon

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