Let us begin today by unabashedly celebrating the brilliance of our species. Even as we sit in our living rooms and watch our handiwork doing our bidding on another planet (still an astonishing feat to a child of the ’50s who watched Sputnik sail across the night sky), this month we push the boundaries of our achievement even further with the announcement that we can now restore a level of vision to formerly sightless patients. Before today, a child of the ’50s would only have encountered such a thing in the Bible.
Specifically, the Argus II retinal prosthesis system from Second Sight Medical received U.S. market approval from the FDA to treat patients with late-stage retinitis pigmentosa (See Review News, p. 3). Second Sight reports that the development of the device benefited from more than $100 million in public investment by the National Eye Institute, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and an additional $100 million in private investment.
Close on its heels comes the release of peer-reviewed results of Retina Implant AG’s ongoing second human clinical trial, published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study examined the results of nine patients blinded by retinitis pigmentosa who were implanted with the company’s wireless subretinal microchip. The study found that functional vision was restored for most patients, and visual acuity for two of the nine patients surpassed the visual resolution of the company’s first human clinical trial. Patients were followed in and outside of the laboratory and reported the ability to identify facial cues such as smiling, as well as recognize objects such as telephones, red wine versus white wine, door knobs, signs on doors, wastebaskets and more.
We are fortunate to have Sunir Garg on board this month in our Retinal Insider department (p. 60). Dr. Garg provides a detailed look at both technologies, one that couldn’t be more timely.
If you’ve read more than, oh maybe, two of these columns, you probably know that celebrating the brilliance of our species is not my forte. By the time this issue publishes, we may very well be under a federal budget sequestration. (Apparently, with “fiscal cliff” used, they’ve exhausted the supply of catchy economic disaster names. Sequestration?) There are far more newsworthy and potentially devastating effects among the threatened cuts in funding and jobs that this latest fiscal disaster would trigger. But in this little corner of the world, it could mean a 5.1 percent cut in the budget of the NIH, which played a crucial role in supporting the work we celebrate today.
This species just makes it hard to celebrate.