Watch CBSN Live

Artificial retina a breakthrough for the blind?

An artificial retina that can help the sightless regain some of their vision has just been approved in Europe and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may soon do the same in the U.S.

CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reported this could be a breakthrough for people like Dean Lloyd.

Lloyd told CBS News, "I had functional vision until I was 34 or 35 years old. And then I lost almost all of it in six months or less."

Dr. Jonathan LaPook: 1st artificial retina approved in Europe

Blindness robbed him of watching his daughter, Lisa, grow up.

"I was 3 when dad lost most of his vision, so I've never known my dad to be sighted," Lisa said.

Dean said, "The memory's still there."

Still, Dean Lloyd has thrived over the years. He became a lawyer, opening his own practice. He does housework. He accepted that he would never see again.

That is, until a company called Second Sight came looking for volunteers for a clinical trial at the University of California, San Francisco, at the Koret Vision Center, that would surgically implant a bionic eye.

Lisa said, "My dream was for my dad to be able to see again, so when he said he wanted to participate in this study, I was very excited about it."

The device starts with a tiny video camera mounted in a pair of glasses. A transmitter in the glasses sends the images to chip implanted on the back of the damaged eye, Blackstone explained. There, 60 electrodes send the image along the optic nerve straight to the brain.

Today, Dean can make out shapes. He can tell light from dark. At one point, there appeared to be a breakthrough.

Lisa said, "He just all of a sudden exclaimed, 'I can see your hand!' I was just kind of speechless and in shock, and it took me a couple of seconds. I felt really overwhelmed."

In fact, Dean had only seen an outline. But from total blindness, this is a major step.

Dean told Blackstone, "When I look at you, I can get your boundaries and borders, and you're a bit bigger than my daughter, that's for sure."

For Lisa, the technology to help restore sight and perhaps full sight is more than just cool science -- it's a race against time.

Lisa was 22 when she got the news she was going blind. The disease her father has is hereditary. Lisa has already lost night vision. It's 50-50 whether she'll go completely blind. But for now, Blackstone said, she looks to her dad.

"He's definitely been a pioneer," she said.

But what about her future?

Lisa said, "If I do lose all of my sight. I think my dad's shown me what to do and how to live my life, and I'm not wigged out about it."

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton discussed on "The Early Show" how the device works, and the future of the artificial retina.

Ashton said potentially 10 million people in U.S. who are blind from retina problems could benefit from this advance.

Special Section: Dr. Jennifer Ashton
Dr. Jennifer Ashton's Twitter page

Ashton explained, "This is a part of the eye in the back where light images are converted into nerve signals, and then transmitted to the brain. We're not talking about people who are born blind here, but for people suffering from macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa, which is what the father and daughter in this piece, has. Potentially this is very, very helpful."

"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill noted, "It is still, though, experimental. We mentioned it was just approved in Europe. When do you think the FDA might approve it for use in the U.S.?"

"The company told us they hope to file that application for FDA approval later this year," Ashton said. "So there are only 14 people in this country -- (Dean Lloyd) being one of them -- who have the experimental device. In Europe, the cost is high. It's about $100,000 or more. Excitingly, this company also told us they're already at work on the next generation model, which instead of 60 electrodes has 240 electrodes, possibly making it more accurate."

Ashton continued, "Hopefully more accuracy. And interesting historical perspective, this is where cochlear implants for people who are deaf, this is where they were 26 years ago. So we're a little bit behind that, but for visual problems, blindness, this is very, very exciting."

For more information, go to Foundation for Fighting Blindness.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated Dean Lloyd is one of 10 Americans who have been fitted with the experimental device. Second Sight has provided new information to CBS News to update that he is one of 14.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue