Intelligent Medical Implants AG (IMI), a Zug, Switzerland-based company announced that its first-generation Learning Retinal Implant System, containing a 50-electrode device, was successfully implanted in two patients in December 2005. Clinical eval of the device with these two patients is scheduled this month at the University of Hamburg Medical School, Germany. According to the press release (.pdf), the Learning Retinal Implant System is by far the most complex retinal implant tested in humans (the reference and comparison is made against a 16-electrode array from US-based Second Sight.)
The technology (see also our post from June):
IMI’s Learning Retinal Implant System replaces the signal-processing functions of a healthy retina and provides input to the retinal nerve cells (the ganglion cells) that, in turn, provide input to the optic nerve and the brain.
The System comprises three main components:
1. an implant, “The Retinal Stimulator”, which is surgically placed into the eye of a patient, who:
2. wears a pair of spectacles containing an integrated mini-camera and transmitter components for wireless signal and energy transmission (“The Visual Interface”). Via a cable, the spectacles are connected to:
3. “The Pocket Processor” worn at the patient’s waist. This device replaces the information processing function of the formally healthy retina.
The use of a high-speed digital signal processor allows the provision of “intelligent information” to the implant (and the nerve cells) by using tuneable software to approximate the information processing normally carried out by the healthy retina. The entire process enables patients to optimize their visual perception during the learning phase. Indeed, using the patient’s feedback on perception as an input for the tuning of The Pocket Processor is the unique, patent-protected feature of the System and constitutes the ‘learning’ capability of the Learning Retinal Implant System.
The system is being tested in patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a hereditary blindeness. According to Stephan Rietiker, Executive Board Member and CEO of IMI:
“We expect that our Learning Retinal Implant System will some day allow patients to ‘see’ objects by identifying their size, their position and their movements and shapes. In other words, a previously blind person, using our retinal implant, is expected to be able to move independently in an unknown environment – without the need for a guide dog or cane. No doubt, the development of a wireless visual prosthesis that could be implanted permanently with good results would be a colossal leap forward for the field of artificial vision, and we believe that we are now well down that road.”