Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sorting the dark from the light

I was reading an article in the BBC news today. It describes how a British man who has been blind for 30 years has been given a “bionic eye” and he can now see flashes of light, and is able to discern between dark and light.

Quote from the article:

Ron, 73, had the experimental surgery seven months ago at London's Moorfield's eye hospital. He says he can now follow white lines on the road, and even sort socks, using the bionic eye, known as Argus II.

It uses a camera and video processor mounted on sunglasses to send captured images wirelessly to a tiny receiver on the outside of the eye. In turn, the receiver passes on the data via a tiny cable to an array of electrodes which sit on the retina - the layer of specialised cells that normally respond to light found at the back of the eye. When these electrodes are stimulated they send messages along the optic nerve to the brain, which is able to perceive patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to which electrodes have been stimulated. The hope is that patients will learn to interpret the visual patterns produced into meaningful images.

Ron told the BBC: "For 30 years I've seen absolutely nothing at all, it's all been black, but now light is coming through. Suddenly to be able to see light again is truly wonderful. "I can actually sort out white socks, grey socks and black socks." Ron's wife Tracy is also hugely encouraged by the progress he has made. She said: "He can do a lot more now than he could before, doing the washing, being able to tell white from a coloured item. "I've taught him how to use the washing machine and away he goes. It's just the ironing next."

Well, I’m glad to see that the huge investment in technology has all been worth it. Ron’s quality of life has obviously been vastly improved; imagine going through life never being able to experience the simple pleasure of sorting out socks from the washing pile….

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