Med City News
December 12, 2010
Restoring vision to the blind is the sort of feat reserved for ancient religious texts and modern science fiction novels. But a company in Germany did just that with an eye implant.
Retina Implant AG is in the process of developing a sub-Retina Implant, designed to be inserted into the eye to treat back-of-the-eye disorders. A first clinical trial showed that the device can enable people suffering from a certain type of macular degeneration to see. The patients had retinitus pigmentosa, an inherited and incurable degenerative condition that causes tunnel vision and often, eventually, complete blindness. Retina Implant estimates that the condition affects about 200,000 people in the U.S. and Europe.
In 1995, the company’s founder and current board member Dr. Eberhart Zrenner said that implanting a chip inside the eye was as far-fetched as using the space shuttle to get to an adjacent star in the Milky Way. But Dr. Zrenner, who is also chairman of the University of Tuebingen Eye Hospital in Germany, didn’t give up. Ten years later the company launched its first human trial. At the time, Retina Implant also began talking to venture capital firms in Europe, but the technology was deemed too risky. It wasn’t until a wealthy businessman, who was personally interested because he had relatives who suffered from vision loss, that the company found significant outside investment.