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Futuristic system brings vision to blind

ST. LOUIS -- A Saint Louis University neurosurgeon has become the first U.S. doctor to implant a potentially revolutionary electronic eye device that allows a blind patient to see. He is the only United States doctor ever to perform the procedure.

Kenneth R. Smith Jr., M.D., professor of neurosurgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, performed the two- to three-hour surgical procedure in Lisbon, Portugal, in April. He was one of four specialists who operated on eight blind patients who paid to receive artificial vision systems developed by the Dobelle Institute.

A report on the progress of the patients - and news that the artificial vision system now is commercially available abroad - was presented June 13 at the 48th annual meeting of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs in New York.

"With this technology, there's new hope that some patients who have lost their vision through trauma can unscramble light patterns well enough to function," Smith said. "Patients who live in darkness potentially have a light at the end of the tunnel."

The artificial vision system is a more complicated version of the visor worn by Geordi La Forge, the blind chief engineer in the science fiction television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patients are implanted with devices that act as artificial eyes by stimulating the visual cortex of the brain.

Two patients, who had been totally blind before their surgeries in April, have already learned to use the prosthetic system well enough to slowly drive cars on private property. They could walk freely around a laboratory, avoid obstacles and look outside a window to see a tree.

"It's amazing now. It was science fiction a few years ago," said William H. Dobelle, Ph.D., chairman and chief executive officer of The Dobelle Institute, developer of the artificial vision system. Dobelle had consulted with the writers of Star Trek: Next Generation, before they created a bl
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Contact: Nancy Solomon
solomonn@slu.edu
314-977-8017
Saint Louis University
13-Jun-2002


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