The Veterans Administration has a long and rich tradition of groundbreaking research and has contributed greatly to the field of medicine. That tradition continues today.
Dr. Kathy Chriqui, a leading optometrist in Northridge makes a point to stay up to date with the latest developments in optometry and diseases of the eye. She has been fascinated with some of the VA's more recent advancements in eye health, including the development of retinal implants.
The VA explains the implantable retinal prosthesis study on its website, saying "VA researchers are part of a team, the Boston Retinal Implant Project, working to help patients with visual impairments. One of the team's major projects has been to develop an implantable retinal prosthesis that could restore sight in blinded Veterans and others. In the eye, the retina contains a million nerve cells that transmit image signals to the vision cortex of the occipital lobe in the back of the brain.
"The project uses 'smart' eyeglasses that serve as a camera and a transmitter. The images the camera takes are transmitted to a handheld computer and power pack. The computer processes the images, and a signal is then sent to an antenna encircling the iris of the eye.
The antenna directs the signal into a half-inch-square titanium pack atop the eye that contains a computer chip and electronics. It turns the image into impulses sent to specific electrodes implanted in a thin plastic film placed between the retina and back wall of the eye. Those pulses stimulate the proper retinal nerves to send signals of that image to the brain.
The device was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013. It provides limited eyesight for people with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment due to a loss of cells in the retina. As currently configured, the prosthesis will not help blinded Veterans whose optic nerve or retinal nerve system has been damaged, but research continues.
Also of interest to Dr. Chriqui, is research being conducted at the VA's Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation, where experts are working on a number of projects to help blind people and those with low vision to live more independent lives. Among the most promising projects are:
- Smartphone app—Researchers at the center are developing a smartphone app that fuses data from the Global Positioning System with data from the magnetic compass, gyrocompass, and accelerometers found in most smart phones. The app will provide highly accurate location information that can help users easily find destinations such as a crosswalk or building entrance.
- RFID tags--The center is also investigating the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID), the technology that allows people to scan items at a store or drive through a tollbooth with an E-ZPass tag. Researchers are looking at the possibility of placing RFID tags on Braille signs to send information automatically to smart phones that can read the tags. Currently, some Braille signs use low energy Bluetooth transmitters, but the batteries on those must be changed every few years, while RFID tags require no power.
- HandSight—Center researchers are working on a Department of Defense-funded project called HandSight, in which a tiny camera small enough to embed in a false fingernail is worn by the user and connected to a smart watch. The watch vibrates to signal that the user has placed his or her finger on a line of text.
Scanning the finger along the text activates software that translates the text into spoken output heard on a Bluetooth earpiece. When the user touches an article of clothing, software in the watch recognizes the colors and patterns and helps with coordinating an ensemble.
Dr. Chriqui and the staff at Northridge eye clinic Optometrics would like to thank all those who currently serve in the country's armed forces for their service and to express their gratitude to the many veterans who have given so much to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy today.