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Sight To The Blind?

The "eye chip" is an amazing new device that could one day help some blind people see. The technology is showing great promise and even has sparked the interest of musician Stevie Wonder.

Early Show Health Contributor Dr. Emily Senay reports that researchers have been trying for many years to bring sight to the blind, and now it looks like they're making progress.

Take the case of Harold Churchey. He was born with damaged retinas and had not been able to see for decades - until now.

"They shuffled those probes around to make a letter, and the letter was 'H,' and I was able to identify it," he said.

Though he saw only a letter, it could represent a major breakthough. Churchey is taking part in experimental trials at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where they have been trying to restore sight by using a computer chip.

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Here's how it works: A camera attached to eyeglasses transmits images to a computer chip implanted on the retina. The chip converts the signal, sending electronic impulses to the brain, creating sight.

"People that would benefit from this technology are those with retinal blindness, those with retinitis pigmentosa and some forms of macular degeneration," explained Dr. Mark Humayun, the lead researcher at Johns Hopkins. "If the device functions just enough to allow mobility and recognizing shapes, then it will basically help in the tens of thousands of people."

And, as for Churchey, there are two people he can't wait to see.

"Ultimately, I hope to see my wife. Haven't seen her [since] we was married 53 ago. And my son, 44 years old, I haven't seen for some time."

Dr. Senay says the eye chip is still in trials and researchers do not know exactly who will benefit in the end. But they are going to test it on people with a variety of diseases. In the case of Stevie Wonder, he might be able to see for a certain period of time and differentiate between light and shadow.

"It's not a cure," explains Dr. Senay. "It has not been used on humans. They are in animal trials. They are going to try this total system eventually. Righjt now, they are trying components. But I think it will work for a small percentage of people."

Dr. Senay estimates that the total system will start being tested on humans within about two to five years.

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