New technology may bring sight back to blind

(CBS News) On Friday, an FDA Panel recommended approval of a remarkable device that helps some blind people regain part of their sight.

It's called the Argus 2 and it may allow those who have gone totally blind to regain some of their vision.

Attorney, Dean Lloyd, went blind when he was 34-years old. He suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary disease with no cure.

"I had no vision for at least 17 years until I had the Argus 2 implant placed in my eye in July 2007," Lloyd says.

Lloyd is one of only 30 people worldwide to test the device. It has allowed him to distinguish black from white and he can even see shapes.

"In the last week or two I actually left my cane at home and used [Argus 2] by itself to get to the office 2 or 3 blocks [away] but it takes training and it takes a lot of thought process to make it work," Lloyd says.

The Argus 2 doesn't use Lloyd's eyes to see, instead, a camera mounted on his glasses captures images that are transmitted as electrical impulses to 60 electrodes implanted at the back of his eye.

These electrodes bypass the damaged cells of the retina and stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

The 60 points of light produce a very crude image compared to the millions of points that would be used in a healthy eye.

Dr. Eugene de Juan helped to develop the device and has a financial interest in the company that will sell it.

However, de Juan says: "the device is meant for use in patients that have lost all of their vision, don't have any vision at all. To help walk, to see cars go by, people, windows, those kinds of things."

Lloyd has high hopes for the Argus 2 as he dreams of improved vision.

"I want it more useful and more useful because I am one of those persons that has great expectations and a lot of motivation," Llloyd says.

You know how sometimes you take a digital picture and it's out of focus but there's special software to sharpen it? They're developing similar software for this device. They're looking to increase the number of electrodes at the back of the retina, that should provide more pixels and hopefully a better picture.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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