Scientists in southwestern Germany have made a breakthrough in restoring vision to the blind by successfully implanting special microchips under their retinas.
German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that a group of doctors at the University of Tuebingen under ophthalmologist Eberhart Zrenner had carried out the procedure.
The team implanted a chip under the retinas of eleven visually-impaired people, enabling them to regain rudimentary vision so they could recognize objects and read letters.
The procedure is designed for people who have lost their vision as a result of degenerative retinal disease which affects more than 4,000 people every year in Germany, according to the Web site of Retina Implant AG, the sponsor of the study.
'No longer legally blind'
One particular success story was the procedure on a 45-year-old Finnish man called Miika.
"Miika showed that with an aid we can give people enough sight so that they are no longer legally blind," the news magazine cited Zrenner.
The implant, comprising more than 1,500 photo cells housed on a three-by-three millimeter tiny microchip, was placed under the retina in a four-hour operation.
"The implant is well tolerated by the body," Zrenner told the magazine.
"None of the patients we have observed have had serious problems such as inflammation."
However, because of constraints of the ethics committee of the University of Tuebingen, the vision chip will be removed again after a few weeks. That's because too little was known about how the long-term compatibility of the implants at the beginning of the experiment.
The procedures are currently free for those undergoing the tests at Tuebingen. In future, Retinal Implant's Web site suggests that the chips would cost 25,000 euros plus the cost of the surgery.
Zrenner said he planned to implant the chip permanently in about two dozen blind people next year.
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar
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