Visual prostheses: The enabling technology to give sight to the blind
Millions of patients are either slowly losing their vision or are already blind due to retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or because of accidents or injuries. Employment of artificial means to treat extreme vision impairment has come closer to reality during the past few decades. Currently, many research groups work towards effective solutions to restore a rudimentary sense of vision to the blind. Aside from the efforts being put on replacing damaged parts of the retina by engineered living tissues or microfabricated photoreceptor arrays, implantable electronic microsystems, referred to as visual prostheses, are also sought as promising solutions to restore vision. From a functional point of view, visual prostheses receive image information from the outside world and deliver them to the natural visual system, enabling the subject to receive a meaningful perception of the image. This paper provides an overview of technical design aspects and clinical test results of visual prostheses, highlights past and recent progress in realizing chronic high-resolution visual implants as well as some technical challenges confronted when trying to enhance the functional quality of such devices.