It's a rudimentary level of vision. But for people without vision, that can be pretty remarkable. --Brian Mech of Second Sight Medical Products Inc., developer and manufacturer of the artificial retinaThe electrodes on the microchip then stimulate cells on the retina roughly in the shape of the tree. The shape is communicated to the brain -- the idea being that Campbell might one day perceive some semblance of a shape of that tree. "It's a rudimentary level of vision," said Brian Mech, vice president of business development at Second Sight Medical Products Inc., the developer and manufacturer of the artificial retina. "But for people without vision, that can be pretty remarkable." In 2002, the first-generation artificial retina had only 16 electrodes. "Patients were able to do things that we would not have anticipated with so few electrodes," Mech said. "One patient could shoot baskets, and another was crossing crosswalks." Campbell received one of the second-generation artificial retinas with 60 electrodes, and thus far, according to her doctors, has made significant progress. When she stands outside her apartment building, she can now sense light emanating from windows. Navigating up the stairs of her building, she now knows that there is light illuminating the hallways. And when she arrives home and makes tea, she can sense light coming from the burners on the stove. And just recently, during a vision test, Campbell was able to correctly identify a sequence of letters for the first time in decades. "I was like, 'You're kidding,' " Campbell said. "I was shocked. I still can't believe it." Campbell's doctors try to temper her excitement and that of other study participants. "Being able to repair, in some way, a function that has been lost is a very exciting thing," Del Priore said. "But it is important to be realistic." Recognizing faces, driving or reading the small print in newspapers is a very long way off, Mech said. And while some patients like Campbell do well with the implant, there are some who struggle.
We can now take someone who is totally blind and turn them into someone with very, very poor vision. --Aries Arditi, a senior fellow in vision science at Lighthouse InternationalStill, the feeling among those involved in the study is tempered excitement. "We can now take someone who is totally blind and turn them into someone with very, very poor vision," said Arditi, who trains Campbell weekly on how to nurture her vision. "That's really the first time in history we've been able to do that." Devices with 100 and 1,000 electrodes are in production, and the hope, Mech said, is that more electrodes will mean more-detailed vision. Today, the artificial retina is primarily for sufferers of retinitis pigmentosa, but it could expand to other diseases, like dry age-related macular degeneration, Mech said. There are 100,000 people in the United States affected by retinitis pigmentosa, according to the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Training Campbell's eye and brain to see again will take years of rehabilitation. Her vision is in black-and-white and will never be perfect. Those factors do not prevent Campbell from dreaming. "What I'd actually really hoped, and I'm not sure if it's going to happen, is seeing colors," Campbell said. "If I could see colors again, my plan was to go to the Grand Canyon." [rc] © 2009 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.