There’s a new invention that can restore sight even to those who have been blind for decades. Larry Hester from North Carolina was one of the first patients to receive the new technology, which gave him a chance to see again, after 33 years of blindness.
Larry Hester lost his sight in his 30s, when he was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. It involves degenerative retinal changes, which lead to the loss of peripheral vision and the so-called night blindness. The disease is hereditary in 60% of cases. There are 1,5 million people worldwide who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa.
Hester is the seventh patient to receive a bionic eye implant Argus II Retinal Prosthesis Device, developed by Second Sight Medical Products, together with North Carolina’s Duke University Eye Center.
The bionic vision technology is based on the transmission of signals to the nerves of the blind person’s retina. A tiny camera embedded in a pair of glasses detects the light and transmits it to a miniature computer, which converts it into electrical signals corresponding to the synthesized image. A wireless implant consisting of 60 electrodes stimulates the optic nerve directly and thus transmits the signals to the brain.
However, bionic vision is more limited – in fact, a person can only distinguish between the light and the dark. Yet, the developers promise to expand the capabilities of the new device in the future.
Despite the fact that the device is not yet able to produce complex visual patterns and allows Larry Hester only to see flashes of light and distinguish some objects from others, it is a true miracle for him and his family. “It’s so basic,” he says in the video. “The light is so basic and probably wouldn’t have significance to anybody else. But to me it’s meaning I can see light. And we can go from here.”“It’s a fairly limited device, but it’s an amazing leap forward,” says retinal expert Dr. Colin McCannel. “It’s not the vision you or I are used to. But for someone who has been in complete darkness it must be amazing to see again. I think it’s absolutely phenomenal.”
A Swedish amputee has become the first person in the world to be fitted with a prosthetic that directly interfaces with his bone, muscle and nerves, and can be controlled with his mind, making him what could be considered a true cyborg.
The patient, whose right arm was amputated 10 years ago, received the prosthesis in January 2013.
"We have used osseointegration to create a long-term stable fusion between man and machine, where we have integrated them at different levels," explained lead study author Max Ortiz Catalan, research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.
"The artificial arm is directly attached to the skeleton, thus providing mechanical stability. Then the human's biological control system, that is nerves and muscles, is also interfaced to the machine's control system via neuromuscular electrodes. This creates an intimate union between the body and the machine; between biology and mechatronics."
Osseointegration involved surgically implanting and fixing a titanium implant directly into the bone. An extension is then fixed to the implant, which allows the prosthesis to be attached. Electrodes are then implanted directly into the nerves and muscles; these read the electrical signals sent from the brain, which are translated into movements to be executed by the arm.
Although there are sophisticated robotic prostheses currently available commercially, these use non-invasive electrodes placed on the wearer's skin, which limits what they can do. The Swedish patient had, prior to his surgery conducted by associate professor Rickard Brånemark and his colleagues at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden, worn just such a prosthesis.
Since the surgery, he has been able to do his physically demanding job as a truck driver, completing tasks such as clamping his trailer load and operating machinery -- as well as more delicate day-to-day tasks such as handling eggs and tying the laces on his children's skates.
The direct skeletal attachment has allowed an increased range of motion compared to a myoelectric prosthesis, elimination of pressure sores from the socket, and increased sensory feedback from vibrations through the bone. Meanwhile, the implanted electrodes prevent interference from other muscles, and can read a greater number of motor signals directly from the muscle compared to the skin -- meaning a greater degree of control.
The next step is developing feeling. While most of the information is coming from the brain to the prosthetic, the implanted electrodes in the nerves can be used to send information from the prosthetic to the brain. The research team is already working towards this.
"Reliable communication between the prosthesis and the body has been the missing link for the clinical implementation of neural control and sensory feedback, and this is now in place," Ortiz Catalan said.
"So far we have shown that the patient has a long-term stable ability to perceive touch in different locations in the missing hand. Intuitive sensory feedback and control are crucial for interacting with the environment, for example to reliably hold an object despite disturbances or uncertainty. Today, no patient walks around with a prosthesis that provides such information, but we are working towards changing that in the very short term."
Everything is relative. You don't need to be Einstein to understand that. A human is as big to an ant as a building may be to him. However, the world always seems such a huge place; so many countries, cities, forests, oceans, lakes, icebergs. So many animals and species. So much history.
But ever since we developed the ability to look beyond our atmosphere, it became more and more apparent that our blue marble is tiny. Too tiny to even comprehend, when compared to other planets, stars, galaxies and the universe itself. So just to give you an idea of how tiny we really are here on planet earth, here are some visual aids.