Degenerations of the outer retina such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) lead to blindness due to photoreceptor loss. There is a secondary loss of inner retinal cells but significant numbers of bipolar and ganglion cells remain intact for many years. Currently, no therapeutic option to restore vision in these blind subjects is available. Short-term pattern electrical stimulation of the retina using implanted electrode arrays in subjects blind from RP showed that ambulatory vision and limited character recognition are possible. To produce artificial vision by electrical retinal stimulation, a wireless intraocular visual prosthesis was developed. Images of the environment, taken by a camera are pre-processed by an external visual encoder. The stimulus patterns are transmitted to the implanted device wirelessly and electrical impulses are released by microcontact electrodes onto the retinal surface. Towards a human application, the biocompatibility of the utilised materials and the feasibility of the surgical implantation procedure were stated. In acute stimulation tests, thresholds were determined and proved to be within a safe range. The local and retinotopic activation of the visual cortex measured by optical imaging of intrinsic signals was demonstrated upon electrical retinal stimulation with a completely wireless and remotely controlled retinal implant. Potential obstacles are reviewed and further steps towards a successful prosthesis development are discussed.
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