USC-developed retinal implant gives new vision to blind patient

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- At 17, Jirair Semerdijan of Henderson, Nevada completely lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa.

The condition destroyed part of his retina. He lost his sight and his independence.

Now for the first time, this 42-year-old is going to see light. "I see flashing," Semerdijan said.

Three weeks ago, doctors surgically implanted the Argus II retinal device into Semerdijan's right eye. The technology was developed at the USC Roski Eye Institute.

It helps him utilize his remaining retinal cells.

"In bright illumination you can differentiate between light and dark," said Dr. Hossein Ameri, Assistant Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at Keck Medicine of USC.

The Argus II is made up of different pieces of hardware. First the retinal implant, a pair of goggles equipped with a camera that sends an electrical signal to the video processor which interprets the information.

It then sends it back to a coil in the goggles which communicates with the implant.

Ameri said, "Some of these patients can see big letters when its projected."

Sixty electrodes allow Semerdijan to detect light and dark. In time and with training, his brain will be able to connect more dots and he will be able to discern more in his environment
"It's like learning a new language," said Ameri.

The first thing Semerdijan plans to do is to head out on his own. "I'm probably going to take a bus and go to the YMCA."

The device costs about $150,000 and since it is FDA approved, Medicare covers most of the cost.

Semerdijan is looking forward to exploring his new world

"I think this is going to be helpful for other people, especially with more updates, " he said.
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