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Upstate looks to perform artificial retina surgery

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Upstate looks to perform artificial retina surgery
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It might look and function like something out of Star Trek, but Argus II is the first major breakthrough for people with severe sight loss. It's an artificial prosthetic retina. As our Katie Gibas reports, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse is working to become one of the centers approved to perform the procedure.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Erin Scala can only see light and dark. When she was four, she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that destroys the eye's light receptors.

"There's just certain things you can't do like drive, read the mail, walk to the dumpster by yourself without your cane or guide dog or holding onto someone's arm," said Scala.

After Scala was diagnosed, she thought she'd be blind forever. But new research has given her renewed hope that she might be able to see again.

Last month, the FDA okayed the first artificial retina called Argus II. It is approved for people with severe Retinitis Pigmentosa.

"It is a giant leap forward in our ability to improve vision for people who have no vision at all. These people had no hope whatsoever and now they have some ability to see and hopefully that will improve their function," said Dr. Anthony Andrews, Upstate Medical University Retinal Specialist.

Patients wear glasses with a video camera. The camera sends the vision information to a computer. The computer transmits it to a chip implanted in the eye, which sends it through the optic nerve to the brain.

"The device basically gives people a series of bright lights and certain patterns and then the people have to determine what the patterns mean. And then it's how the patterns are interpreted that gives them vision," said Andrews.

Scala added, "I think it would be great to see family faces again and friends, read a piece of paper, get something in the mail and say oh, 'I can read this by myself,' instead of, 'So and so can you read this to me?' So it just adds another level of independence."

Upstate University Hospital is working to become one of the centers allowed to perform the surgery.

"I've been in contact with the company and they've said basically that they're going to concentrate in major metropolitan areas. They haven't made a final decision on which centers at the moment," said Andrews.

But specialists hope all their current vision research will be enough to encourage a center for Upstate New York.

About one in 4,000 people are affected with Retinitis Pigmentosa.

For more information about the disease or the Argus II, check out the links below:

2-sight.eu

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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