Helping the Blind See

By ThinkReliability Staff

Retinitis pigmentosa is an eye disease which results in the degeneration of photoreceptor cells in the retina.  Although it is uncommon, it is estimated that 100,000 Americans suffer from it, but a new device may be able to help them.

In normal sight, the light from a signal enters the eye and contacts photoreceptor cells in the retina.  The photoreceptor cells generate electrical impulses, which are sent to the brain by the optic nerve, allowing the vision to be interpreted by the brain.  In retinitis pigmentosa, their photoreceptor cells deteriorate, short-circuiting the vision process, eventually to the point where there is no vision at all.

To assist in our understanding of the normal vision process, and the problems with it resulting from retinitis pigmentosa, we can use a process map, or a visual step by step diagramming of any process that is examined as part of a root cause analysis.  Although in this case the process is a biological one, diagramming any process that is not producing the desired results can provide important information to develop solutions that allow the process to  again provide the desired results.

With advanced retinitis pigmentosa, all vision can be lost.   Although researchers continue to attempt to discover ways to restore as much vision as possible, any improvement can improve quality of life.  A device called the Argus II, which was approved by the FDA for use in the US on February 14, 2013, aims to help those with retinitis pigmentosa – and possibly in the future those who are blind from macular degeneration.  The device was approved in Europe in 2011 for any type of outer retinal degeneration.

The device uses a camera, video process and electrodes which do the processing work normally performed by photoreceptor cells and the optic nerve.  The electrode provides a pixelized light/dark pattern to the brain, which can allow sufferers to  see outlines and differentiate between light and dark.  Again, a process map can help demonstrate how the device works to bypass the normal vision process.

To view a process map of normal vision, and partial vision provided by the Argus II device, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.