[nfbmi-talk] RP Sight Restoration Advancement Comes to Ann Arbor

Terry D. Eagle terrydeagle at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 25 23:34:12 UTC 2014


Article

 

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - 

 

A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz of his

 

vision.

 

Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost
completely

 

blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure that involved the
surgical

 

implantation of a "bionic eye," he's regained enough of his eyesight to
catch small

 

glimpses of his wife, grandson and cat.

 

"It's awesome. It's exciting - seeing something new every day," Pontz said
during

 

a recent appointment at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. The
55-year-old

 

former competitive weightlifter and factory worker is one of four people in
the U.S.

 

to receive an artificial retina since the Food and Drug Administration
signed off

 

on its use last year.

 

The facility in Ann Arbor has been the site of all four such surgeries since
FDA

 

approval. A fifth is scheduled for next month.

 

Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited disease that causes slow but
progressive vision

 

loss due to a gradual loss of the light-sensitive retinal cells called rods
and cones.

 

Patients experience loss of side vision and night vision, then central
vision, which

 

can result in near blindness.

 

Not all of the 100,000 or so people in the U.S. with retinitis pigmentosa
can benefit

 

from the bionic eye. An estimated 10,000 have vision low enough, said Dr.

Brian Mech,

 

an executive with Second Sight Medical Products Inc., the Sylmar,
Calif.-based company

 

that makes the device. Of those, about 7,500 are eligible for the surgery.

 

The artificial implant in Pontz's left eye is part of a system developed by
Second

 

Sight that includes a small video camera and transmitter housed in a pair of
glasses.

 

Images from the camera are converted into a series of electrical pulses that
are

 

transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes on the surface of the
retina. The

 

pulses stimulate the retina's remaining healthy cells, causing them to relay
the

 

signal to the optic nerve.

 

The visual information then moves to the brain, where it is translated into
patterns

 

of light that can be recognized and interpreted, allowing the patient to
regain some

 

visual function.

 

When wearing the glasses, which Pontz refers to as his "eyes," he can
identify and

 

grab his cat and figure out that a flash of light is his grandson
hightailing it

 

to the kitchen.

 

The visual improvement is sometimes startling for Pontz and his wife, Terri,
who

 

is just as amazed at her husband's progress as he is.

 

"I said something I never thought I'd say: 'Stop staring at me while I'm
eating,'"

 

Terri Pontz said.

 

She drives her husband the nearly 200 miles from tiny Reed City, Mich., to
Ann Arbor

 

for check-ups and visits with occupational therapist Ashley Howson, who
helps Roger

 

Pontz reawaken his visual memory and learn techniques needed to make the
most of

 

his new vision.

 

At the recent visit, Howson handed Pontz white and black plates, instructed
him to

 

move them back and forth in front of light and dark backgrounds and asked
that he

 

determine their color.

 

Back home, Terri Pontz helps her husband practice the techniques he learns
in Ann

 

Arbor.

 

For them, the long hours on the road and the homework assignments are a
blessing.

 

"What's it worth to see again? It's worth everything," Terri Pontz said.

 

The artificial retina procedure has been performed several-dozen times over
the past

 

few years in Europe, and the expectation is that it will find similar
success in

 

the U.S., where the University of Michigan is one of 12 centers accepting
consultations

 

for patients.

 

Candidates for the retinal prosthesis must be 25 or older with end-stage
retinitis

 

pigmentosa that has progressed to the point of having "bare light" or no
light perception

 

in both eyes.

 

Dr. Thiran Jayasundera, one of two physicians who performed the 4.5-hour
surgery

 

on Roger Pontz, is scheduled to discuss his experiences with the retinal
prosthesis

 

process during a meeting of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive
Surgery

 

on Friday in Boston. He calls it a "game-changer."

 

Pontz agrees: "I can walk through the house with ease. If that's all I get
out of this, it'd be great."

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - A degenerative eye disease slowly robbed Roger Pontz
of his

 

vision.

 

Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a teenager, Pontz has been almost
completely

 

blind for years. Now, thanks to a high-tech procedure that involved the
surgical

 

implantation of a "bionic eye," he's regained enough of his eyesight to
catch small

 

glimpses of his wife, grandson and cat.

 

"It's awesome. It's exciting - seeing something new every day," Pontz said
during

 

a recent appointment at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center. The
55-year-old

 

former competitive weightlifter and factory worker is one of four people in
the U.S.

 

to receive an artificial retina since the Food and Drug Administration
signed off

 

on its use last year.

 

The facility in Ann Arbor has been the site of all four such surgeries since
FDA

 

approval. A fifth is scheduled for next month.

 

Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited disease that causes slow but
progressive vision

 

loss due to a gradual loss of the light-sensitive retinal cells called rods
and cones.

 

Patients experience loss of side vision and night vision, then central
vision, which

 

can result in near blindness.

 

Not all of the 100,000 or so people in the U.S. with retinitis pigmentosa
can benefit

 

from the bionic eye. An estimated 10,000 have vision low enough, said Dr.

Brian Mech,

 

an executive with Second Sight Medical Products Inc., the Sylmar,
Calif.-based company

 

that makes the device. Of those, about 7,500 are eligible for the surgery.

 

The artificial implant in Pontz's left eye is part of a system developed by
Second

 

Sight that includes a small video camera and transmitter housed in a pair of
glasses.

 

Images from the camera are converted into a series of electrical pulses that
are

 

transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes on the surface of the
retina. The

 

pulses stimulate the retina's remaining healthy cells, causing them to relay
the

 

signal to the optic nerve.

 

The visual information then moves to the brain, where it is translated into
patterns

 

of light that can be recognized and interpreted, allowing the patient to
regain some

 

visual function.

 

When wearing the glasses, which Pontz refers to as his "eyes," he can
identify and

 

grab his cat and figure out that a flash of light is his grandson
hightailing it

 

to the kitchen.

 

The visual improvement is sometimes startling for Pontz and his wife, Terri,
who

 

is just as amazed at her husband's progress as he is.

 

"I said something I never thought I'd say: 'Stop staring at me while I'm
eating,'"

 

Terri Pontz said.

 

She drives her husband the nearly 200 miles from tiny Reed City, Mich., to
Ann Arbor

 

for check-ups and visits with occupational therapist Ashley Howson, who
helps Roger

 

Pontz reawaken his visual memory and learn techniques needed to make the
most of

 

his new vision.

 

At the recent visit, Howson handed Pontz white and black plates, instructed
him to

 

move them back and forth in front of light and dark backgrounds and asked
that he

 

determine their color.

 

Back home, Terri Pontz helps her husband practice the techniques he learns
in Ann

 

Arbor.

 

For them, the long hours on the road and the homework assignments are a
blessing.

 

"What's it worth to see again? It's worth everything," Terri Pontz said.

 

The artificial retina procedure has been performed several-dozen times over
the past

 

few years in Europe, and the expectation is that it will find similar
success in

 

the U.S., where the University of Michigan is one of 12 centers accepting
consultations

 

for patients.

 

Candidates for the retinal prosthesis must be 25 or older with end-stage
retinitis

 

pigmentosa that has progressed to the point of having "bare light" or no
light perception

 

in both eyes.

 

Dr. Thiran Jayasundera, one of two physicians who performed the 4.5-hour
surgery

 

on Roger Pontz, is scheduled to discuss his experiences with the retinal
prosthesis

 

process during a meeting of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive
Surgery

 

on Friday in Boston. He calls it a "game-changer."

 

Pontz agrees: "I can walk through the house with ease. If that's all I get
out of this, it'd be great."

 



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