" Although there are great hopes for the future, the most any patient can hope for immediately is to tell the difference between light and shade. And this small amount of sight will only last for a couple of hours in an operating theatre.” The Guardian - Is there a chance of sight for Stevie Wonder? (1999) More than a decade later we ask - what progress has been made in bringing sight to the blind using technology? With so much to gain it’s an extremely exciting field of research and some of the advancements in technology have brought significant improvements to people’s lives - especially those who have already benefited from implants and the wonder of sight. How long will it be before Stevie Wonder’s dream of sight can come true for everyone? Most of the registered blind have a limited capacity to see some dim shapes only a small minority (about 5%) can’t see anything. While not all cells are completely inactive, computer chips can be used to stimulate those remaining cells. The hope was that one day this technique could be used to deliver vision for longer periods than the 30 minutes, or so they could achieve at the time. Some of the early experiments from this era that gained huge excitement amongst the public allowed scientists to demonstrate on television legally blind patients seeing through an electronic camera mounted on their heads. A kind of artificial retina was attached and this allowed for some pretty exciting demonstrations. Unfortunately, as with all new technologies of this nature there was a risk to the patients and no way the device could be used outside the laboratory. Naturally the images ‘seen’ were not clear - more shapes and colors than the clear vision of the world scientists were hoping to achieve. Progress Is Made “But Kehoe was not suddenly feeling his age, nor even reviving from a long coma. He was simply seeing his reflection for the first time in 20 years.” New Scientist - Second Sight - 2002. The first trials of the Argus Retinal Prosthesis system involved the implantation of sixteen electrodes. Many patients could see shapes, colors and distance using this system which allowed them to perform a wide range of tasks. This rapidly moved on to tests with 60 electrodes and markedly better vision for the patients. Early trials with a camera and computer system combining with these implants continues to show significant promise for the future under the Argus II system which leads scientists to aggressively pursue this strategy and trials with more electrodes began in 2007. The results were astounding. Finally in 2011 the first retinal prosthesis aimed at bringing vision to the legally blind was licensed for sale in Europe - the Argus II. A clinical trial lasting since 2007 when the number of electrodes was increased had proved safe and effective allowing those whose vision had been destroyed by degenerative diseases to see again - albeit not to the full capacity of a sighted individual. With two of the early candidates reportedly able to read short sentences using the device there is huge hope that the trials of the newer increased resolution devices could come even closer to the dream of restoring vision for many (a dream perhaps in a comfortable bed chosen using a Tempurpedic comparison). With the longest serving implant just five years old , it will be crucial to study the long term effects of the devices on the brains and eyes of the patients. The hope that vision can be restored in the long term depends on safety and low incidence of side effects. Free From Computers? This wouldn’t be a complete analysis of the future of vision restoration without the discussion of techniques away from the power of the microchip. Instead we turn to the magic of biology and nature. “On July 12, 2011, scientists injected retinal cells derived from embryonic stem cells into the eyes of two patients suffering from progressive blindness, and the results announced Monday suggest that the treatment has changed their lives." http://healthland.time.com/2012/01/24/early-success-in-a-human-embryonic-stem-cell-trial-to-treat-blindness/#ixzz1lpctFBq5 Embryonic stem cell research has delivered startling results which show some promise of moving ahead of our assisted vision devices and computer implants to true restoration of the cells and function of the eye in cases of degenerative disease. Only in the future will we know which technology or technique will prevail. One thing we do know is we are closer to Stevie Wonder’s dream of vision restoration.