Doctors at USC Eye Institute helped develop the first FDA-approved implanted device to re-establish sight in blind patients
LOS ANGELES—USC Eye Institute patient Terry Byland became the first person in the world to have two retinal prostheses – one in each eye – and his progress regaining some sight signals hope for people going blind from Retinitis pigmentosa.
“I just can’t get over what I can see, and all the things I’ve seen so far,” said Byland, the 66 year-old resident of Riverside, Calif.
The reason: the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis system, the first FDA-approved implanted device to re-establish some sight in blind patients, giving them the ability to perceive images and movement.
Like most people diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa, Byland experienced gradual blindness, going completely dark at the age of 45, when his youngest son was just five years old. He had to retire from the job he loved, selling power tools.
“It’s one thing to give up driving, but it’s another thing to give up your work,” Byland said. “My co-workers were like a second family. I struggled with depression and mood swings. It’s paralyzing to lose your sight.”
Byland was part of the clinical trial for the original prosthesis, Argus I, from 2004 to 2010. His right eye was implanted with a 16-electrode retinal prosthesis on June 23, 2004.
“That study gave me a sense of worth,” said Byland. “The biggest thing for me was to see how far we could go before we hit that wall. The prosthesis allows more independence. And the more independent you are, the happier you are.”
An Eye Toward the Future
“Terry is a true pioneer,” said Mark Humayun, M.D., Ph.D., co-inventor of the device, who holds joint appointments at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “His work with the first-generation implant helped our team develop the FDA-approved Argus II. For him to enjoy the benefit of this smaller, better device is gratifying.”
Byland’s left eye was implanted with the new 60-electrode Argus II on June 22, 2015 – almost 11 years to the day from the first implant – by Lisa Olmos de Koo, M.D. at the USC Eye Institute.
“Once the Argus II was activated, I was immediately able to see what it took the original device more than two years to let me see,” said Byland.
“The Argus II uses software that we can upgrade as we go,” said Olmos de Koo. “So, as there are new innovations in image processing technology, we can continue to introduce new features that might help improve the way a patient can see in the future.”
A Collaboration Between Medicine and Engineering
The Argus II helps patients recognize large letters, locate the position of objects and more. It restores some visual capabilities for patients whose blindness is caused by Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited retinal degenerative disease that affects about 100,000 people nationwide.
The system includes a small video camera mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, a video processing unit that transforms images from the camera into wirelessly-transmitted electronic signals, and an implanted retinal prosthesis (artificial retina) to stimulate visual neurons. The receiver sends signals to the retina that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, where they can be interpreted as a visual picture.
The external device runs on rechargeable battery packs with each battery pack providing four to six hours of operation. Byland wears it as often as he can, especially when he goes out. The more that he wears it, the more he is able to see. Though he has a retinal prosthesis in each eye, he can only use one at a time.
The Argus II is manufactured by Sylmar, Calif.-based Second Sight, and is the result of a close collaboration among Keck School of Medicine of USC, USC Eye Institute and USC Viterbi School of Engineering. It is available to qualified patients at the Keck Medical Center of USC.
Byland celebrated his 29th anniversary with wife Sue within days of getting the Argus II implant. He is hopeful.
“I am looking forward to the progression of seeing more,” said Byland.
The USC Eye Institute, part of the Keck Medicine of USC university-based medical enterprise, has been a leader in scientific research and innovative clinical treatments for 40 years. Among the top three funded academic-based medical centers by the National Eye Institute (NEI) research grants and ranked in the Top 10 ophthalmology departments in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Hospitals” issue for the last 20 years, the USC Eye Institute is headquartered in Los Angeles with clinics in Arcadia, Beverly Hills, downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena.
Patients from across the country come to see the USC Eye Institute experts who treat a vast array of eye diseases across the life spectrum from infants to aging seniors. The USC Eye Institute is known for its scientific research and clinical innovation including: creation of the Argus implant for Retinitis pigmentosa patients (known as the “bionic eye”); stem cell research for AMD patients; discovery of the gene that is the cause of the most common eye cancer in children; treatment for eye infections for AIDS patients; inventors of the most widely used glaucoma implant in the world; pioneers of a device for long-term intraocular drug delivery; and the first to use telesurgery to train eye doctors in developing countries. For more information visit: eye.keckmedicine.org.