Entries in Blindness (10)


'Bionic Eyes' Glasses Helps People With Genetic Blindness

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- People who have lost their vision as a result of a rare genetic disease may soon be able to have some of their sight restored, thanks to the first FDA-approved eye implant.

The implant, named the Argus II, works to wirelessly transmit images to the brain through a video camera and transmitter on a pair of glasses.

While the implant does not restore vision, the FDA said the device might help the blind to see by allowing them "to detect light and dark in the environment."

Dr. Mark Humayn, who has been working on the Argus II for the past 25 years, told ABC’s Good Morning America he committed himself "to developing a new way and a new approach so that those that are blind can have a foreseeable solution."

"One of the things I can do now is laundry," Kathy Blake told Good Morning America. "My husband had to put the colored clothing in, and with the glasses, I'm able to do that myself."

Blake, 61, who has been blind for 23 years, underwent a two-hour surgery and said she now uses the glasses to "help [her] be more outdoor with mobility, walking."

The device is only approved for retintis pigmentosa, a disorder that causes gradual blindness and affects 100,000 people in the United States.

If successful, the device could eventually be used to treat millions with other vision disorders.

"I think that the future for this is going to be big," Blake said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Deaf, Blind Mice Get High-Tech Cures

Comstock/Thinkstock(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- It's an exciting day for deaf, blind mice. Scientists are reporting success with treatments that seem to restore sight and hearing in mice born without those senses. The treatments have a long way to go before the researchers will know if they can help humans, but the early results are encouraging.

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley studied mice with blindness similar to the inherited and age-related blindness that affects humans. When a person or mouse goes blind, the cells in the retina of the eye that respond to light, known as rods and cones, die off, leaving the eye without the ability to detect light. The team used a chemical, called AAQ, to target the remaining living cells, which normally aren't activated by light.

When AAQ is struck with light, it turns those non-sensitive cells into light-sensing signal senders for the brain's vision circuitry.

"The first drug candidate or prototype that directly restores photosensitivity," said Richard Kramer, one of the study's authors. "With a drug, you can adjust its dose, discontinue it, or use in combination with other therapies. And this being a simple chemical, you can use chemistry to make it even better."

But the mice weren't permanently cured. The chemical lasts for a few weeks before the mice need another injection. Dr. Marco Zarbin, chair of ophthalmology and visual science at the New Jersey School of Medicine, who was not affiliated with the study, said if the treatment proved to work in humans, the need for repeated injections isn't a major flaw.

"Injecting something into the eye is something that surgeons do all the time," Zarbin said. "The idea that one would have to periodically repeat the injection is not a deal breaker."

Scientists have been testing many avenues to correct blindness in both mice and men – everything from gene therapy to retina transplants to electronic chips implanted in the retina that stimulate defunct cells. But those methods are invasive and permanent, and none have been proved to restore perfectly normal vision. Kramer said the AAQ chemical he used on his blind mice is a valuable alternative simply because the solution can be stopped at any time if, for example, better treatments came along.

Zarbin agreed, and said the approach also appears to target a majority of the retina's million cells, rather than a few thousand that could be stimulated by an electrical chip.

"That's got to improve a patient's light sensitivity," he said. "I'm as encouraged as I could reasonably hope to be by these findings. But you never really know until you've tried it in a person."

Another team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, set out to help hearing-impaired mice.

The scientists used gene therapy to correct defects in tiny hair cells in the inner ear in mice that were born deaf. By injecting a gene, called VGLUT3, into the inner ears of the mice, the scientists were able to prompt the hair cells to send signals to the brain, restoring the mice's hearing. The effects lasted about nine weeks in newborn mice and at least seven weeks in adult mice. Two mice still had their hearing after one and a half years.

"This is the first time that an inherited, genetic hearing loss has been successfully treated in laboratory mice, and as such represents an important milestone for treating genetic deafness in humans," said study author Lawrence Lustig in a press release.

Zhen-Yi Chen, a hearing researcher at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, said he considers the findings a breakthrough for deaf humans as well.

"Before we really didn't know if this was doable, even in the animal model. Now we know that it is," he said.

But the study's authors were cautious in applying the findings to humans, noting that although the same genetic mutation is tied to hearing loss in mice and humans, the condition may be entirely different in the animals than it is in people.

Chen said if the approach proved effective in humans, it could represent an improvement over current approaches to treating hearing loss – wearable hearing aids and cochlear implants, neither of which restore hearing to normal levels.

Both of the studies were published today in the journal Neuron. Although they may be a giant leap for mousekind, researchers say it will be a while before the therapies can be tested, proven safe and used in people.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Miss Florida USA Contestant Is Legally Blind

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When Connor Boss looks out into the crowd this Saturday as she competes in the Miss Florida USA pageant, she will see audience members only as a blur.

Boss is the pageant's first legally blind contestant. At age 8, she was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease, a genetic disorder that causes progressive vision loss. Now 18 and soon to be a freshman at Florida State University, Boss prefers that her blindness be kept under wraps, her mother Traci Boss said.

"She doesn't want to be judged on that," Traci Boss said. "She doesn't want a sympathy vote or a pity vote. She wants to show people that she could do what anyone else does."

When glasses failed to improve Connor's deteriorating eyesight, her parents said they knew their daughter was facing an unusual challenge.

Connor still has peripheral vision, but she cannot read anything smaller than 36-point font. Throughout middle and high school, she read enlarged textbooks and had her exams read aloud to her. She struggles to make eye contact and sometimes accidentally finds herself in men's bathrooms.

At last year's Miss Florida USA contest, in which she won second runner-up in the teen category, her poor depth perception caused her to stumble on the stairs leading up to the stage during the swimsuit segment.

But beauty pageants have been a source of confidence for Connor, her mother said. At age 16, after she won the Harvest Queen pageant in Belle Glade, Fla., Connor began exercising and eating better, and before long, she entered the Miss Florida USA contest -- all without knowing for sure what she looked like.

Her biggest strength in the pageants is public speaking, Traci Boss said, in part because of the ease with which she can pretend she is speaking to herself.

Connor, who earned a 4.2 grade-point average and served as class president in high school, will not be getting any special treatment from Miss Florida USA, said pageant director Mary Lou Gravitt. The pageant has seen contestants with disabilities in the past, including speech impediments and hearing problems, Gravitt said, adding that overcoming such challenges is a "part of pageantry."

While Connor was losing her vision, though, she may have gained something else. According to Traci Boss, Connor's brain functions have heightened in response to her condition, especially her memory.

"Anything you tell her, she remembers. When she's in a lecture she remembers everything her professor said for years," Traci Boss said.

If she brings home the Miss Florida USA crown Saturday, Connor will represent the state in the Miss USA national beauty pageant.

Traci Boss said she hopes that as her daughter's story attracts attention, it will reach others with disabilities and encourage them to confront challenges.

"You hear about people who have disabilities who choose to stay home, but if they find one person who puts herself out there, they might do the same," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Blindness Treatment an Embryonic Stem Cell First

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- The first results of human embryonic stem cell therapy are in, and they look good.

Two women, 51 and 78, who were legally blind became the first patients to receive human embryonic stem cell treatment, for their condition. The treatment, also called hESC-RPE, involved scientists injecting stem cells into each patient’s eye. One woman had a condition known as Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and the other had age-related macular degeneration. Both conditions cause severe vision loss. The surgery appeared safe after four months and both women experienced an improvement in vision.

“Our study is designed to test the safety and tolerability of hESC-RPE in patients with advanced-stage Stargardt’s macular dystrophy and dry age-related macular degeneration,” the authors wrote. “So far, the cells seem to have transplanted into both patients without abnormal proliferation...or other untoward pathological reactions or safety signals. Continued follow-up and further study is needed. The ultimate therapeutic goal will be to treat patients earlier in the disease processes, potentially increasing the likelihood of photoreceptor and central visual rescue.”

Eye experts say this is an important study because it could show a promising trend in vision improvement. According to the National Eye Institute, about 1.75 million Americans currently suffer from macular degeneration, and this number is expected to grow to 2.95 million in 2020.

“Stem cell biology has an enormous potential to correct genomically derived ocular diseases, both in correcting deficiencies and amending altered anatomy and physiology,” said Barrett Katz, Frances DeJur Chair in ophthalmology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “The eye is the very best organ to expect such advances to be made within, as it is relatively easily accessible and immunologically privileged.”

The research, conducted at UCLA and Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts and published Monday in Lancet, was small in scope and population and no patients were given a placebo treatment for the sake of comparison.

For this reason, some doctors worried the report would raise hopes prematurely.

“To reach any conclusions on the safety or efficacy of two patients treated for four months without a control population for comparison is unreasonable,” said Martin Friedlander, professor of ophthalmology at Scripps Health in La Jolla, Calif. “This is why anecdotal reports like this are not published.”

“This falsely raises the hopes of millions of individuals suffering from these diseases,” he said.

The use of human embryonic stem cells has long been seen as an ethically controversial medical technology because many ague that an embryo is the earliest form of life. Extracting stem cells from that embryo almost always damages it.

But proponents of the use of human embryonic stem cells say this argument lacks validity and detracts from the medical benefits that could be achieved.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teen Blinded by Stargardt's Disease Chases Dreams -- and Guide Dog

Courtesy Sami Stoner(LEXINGTON, Ohio) -- Ohio teen Sami Stoner loves to run.  But when a rare eye disease swiftly stole her vision, the tree-studded trails of cross country running became too dangerous to tackle.

Stoner has Stargardt's disease -- a hereditary form of macular degeneration that causes irreversible blindness.

At first, it seemed running would be yet another sacrifice for the 16-year-old, who will never be able to drive.  But she found her way back into the race with a one-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever called Chloe.

"When one door closes, another one opens," said Stoner, a high school junior in Lexington, Ohio.  "Even if you have a disability or you don't think you can do something, there's almost always a way."

Stoner met Chloe, a specially trained guide dog, in July at the Pilot Dogs facility in Columbus, Ohio.  Tethered by a sturdy harness, the pair endured four weeks of intense training -- first walking and then running under close supervision.

"I've never bonded with even a person like that," said Stoner.  "She knows she has to watch out for me.  I can't imagine being without her now."

Stoner returned to Lexington with Chloe on Aug. 17.  Although Chloe could safely guide Stoner through three miles of uneven terrain, one obstacle required outside help: Ohio High School Athletic Association rules barred Stoner from participating in cross country runs with a dog.

"There's never been a blind athlete with a dog sanctioned to compete," said John Harris, director of athletics for Lexington Local Schools.

Harris urged the association to allow Stoner and Chloe to run.  Eventually, they said yes -- with some stipulations.  Stoner has to start 20 seconds after the other runners.  And while she's allowed to pass them, and she does, she can't impede them.

With the Association's OK, Stoner and Chloe raced the following day on Sept. 17.  In three meets since, the pair has bettered their time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Students Invent Vibrating Shoe for the Blind

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- Students at the University of Texas have invented a shoe that could replace the time-tested cane in aiding the blind in avoiding obstacles while walking.

The students have come up with a shoe covered in sensors that will vibrate once an obstacle is approached.  The sensor nearest to the object will begin to shake, and the closer the obstacle, the faster the vibration.

Dr. Dinesh Bhatia of the University of Texas at Dallas supervised the group of students, whose objective was to eliminate the need for the blind to use canes while walking.

“This is an aid that gives them signals -- in advance -- where the obstacle is.  And then they will navigate," Bhatia said told ABC News' Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV.

Another objective of the shoes is to free up both hands for whoever wears them.

"Yes that would be nice," Blake Lindsay, a spokesperson at Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind, told WFAA.  “I usually just take my left hand do that, but it would be nice to be able to have both hands.”

Though the prototype for the shoe -- built by using off-the-shelf components -- is a far cry from sleek, Bhatia assures that it can be improved.

Laura Shagman, one of the students on the design team, tested the shoe while blindfolded, and within feet of an object she was able to tell it was there.  She said she’s excited about putting the shoes to use.

“If someone were to wear these shoes besides me, that would be great,” Shagman said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Five More Patients Blinded by Avastin

J.B. Reed/Bloomberg News(LOS ANGELES) -- Five Los Angeles patients receiving Avastin to treat eye disease have been blinded, The New York Times reported.

The report came after an alert issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Tuesday that 12 patients in the Miami area had suffered eye infections, some leading to blindness, after Avastin injections.

Avastin, made by Genentech, blocks the growth of new blood vessels. Developed and FDA-approved as a cancer drug, Avastin has increasingly been used, outside its approved indication, as a cheap treatment for wet macular degeneration -- an eye disease caused by abnormal blood vessel growth. The drug is injected directly into the eye.

The approved treatment for macular degeneration, another Genentech drug called Lucentis, costs about $2,000 per injection compared to Avastin’s $50 price tag. The drugs have the same mode of action. But because Avastin is sold in doses designed for intravenous chemotherapy, doctors are forced to divide it into smaller eye-appropriate doses -- a practice that opens the door for bacterial contamination.

“Health care professionals should be aware that repackaging sterile drugs without proper aseptic technique can compromise product sterility, potentially putting the patient at risk for microbial infections,” the FDA warned Tuesday. "Health care professionals should ensure that drug products are obtained from appropriate, reliable sources and properly administered."

The 12 Florida eye infection cases were traced back to a single pharmacy in Hollywood, Fla., the FDA reported. The pharmacy repackaged each 4 millimeter vial of Avastin into four 1 millimeter single dose syringes distributed throughout the region.

A contamination source has yet to been identified in the Los Angeles cases, according to the Times.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Need for Service Dog Trumps Allergies, According to Most State Laws

John Winston/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- A Colorado cab driver has been suspended from his job after forcing a blind woman to stow her seeing-eye dog in the trunk because of his pet allergies.

Denver resident Judie Brown was confused when the cabbie told her that the dog had to ride "in the back" of the cab because he was allergic. When she asked, "Where in the back?" the driver responded "In the trunk," Brown told ABC News affiliate in Denver KMGH 7.

Late for an appointment, Brown reluctantly agreed. The black lab, Alberto, who has been Brown's service dog for four years, whined during the entire ride in the trunk. "It was terribly wrong," Brown said of the situation, and the law is on her side: Colorado state law protects service dogs and their owners, allowing them to ride together in taxis and public transport.

The driver, whose name hasn't been provided by Union Taxi, has since been suspended and fined by the state for violating this law, according to KMGH 7. The cab company declined to comment to ABC News.

The situation embodies a common conflict between those with dog allergies and those requiring service dogs for a disability. Disability laws protect those with service dogs, but do not usually protect those with allergies. Taxi cabs and restaurants commonly pose a problem for those with service dogs, says Marion Gwizdala, president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users.

"Most states have criminal penalties for refusing access to service dogs, but one of the major issues is that generally there's ignorance of this law. The Department of Justice clearly states that allergies and fear of animals are not reasons to deny service animals -- unless the allergy rises to the level of disability," he says.

If a cab driver can prove that his/her allergy to dogs constitutes a disability, then there would be a conflict as to whose rights are superior, Gwindzala says. But how often is a dog allergy severe enough to qualify as a disability?

Someone with asthma could have a severe asthma attack triggered by having a dog in the car, which could be threatening to his/her health, according to James Sublett.,chair of the Indoor Environments Committee at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. While most dog allergy reactions trigger milder symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, and skin rashes, in severe cases, the eyes can swell shut with inflammation -- a reaction that would certainly affect one's ability to drive a cab, he says.

Even for those with merely annoying symptoms, one ride with a dog could leave dander in the car for several weeks unless cleaned thoroughly, Sublett says.

Given the laws that protect service dogs, what's an allergic cabbie to do?

"The driver has a reasonable right to avoid contamination of his cab with dog dander," says Miles Weinberger, director of the Pediatric Allergy and Pulmonary Division at the University of Iowa.

However, he adds, the driver also has an "obligation to ensure that an alternative taxi is promptly available. Putting the dog in the trunk is not an acceptable alternative."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Oregon Baby May Go Blind Because of Faith-Healing Parents

George Doyle/Thinkstock(OREGON, CITY, Ore.) -- Oregon doctors have said that Alayna Wyland, an 18-month-old with a massive growth covering her left eye, may go blind because her parents refused to get her medical treatment on religious grounds.

On Thursday, jury selection continues in the trial of Timothy and Rebecca Wyland, who have been charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment of their child, only days after the state House passed a bill to be tougher on faith-healing parents.

The Wylands, who are 43 and 22, respectively, and are members of the Followers of Christ Church, told authorities they believed that prayer and anointing oils would heal their daughter's hemangioma, an abnormal growth of blood vessels that was occluding her vision.

In the past two years, Oregon's Clackamas County has prosecuted two other couples from the same church whose children died from untreated ailments.  One, Jeff and Marci Beagley, were convicted of criminally negligent homicide last year and sentenced to 16 months in prison after their 16-year-old son, Neil, died of complications from an untreated urinary tract blockage.

About 300 children die a year at the expense of their parents' religious beliefs, according to the Iowa-based organization, Children's Healthcare is Legal Duty, a group that advocates for tough penalties against those who seek exemption from child abuse laws.

Under Oregon law, parents have a "legal duty" to provide care for their children, and those who "knowingly withhold physical care or medical attention," can be prosecuted, according to Michael Regan, senior deputy district attorney in Clackamas County.

Child welfare officials reported the Wylands, who said they would not seek medical care for their daughter unless it was court-ordered, according to Regan.  The baby was taken into state custody last July and has been treated with medication.  It is not clear if vision will ever develop in that eye, he said.

If the Oregon House follows the Senate's action earlier this week, religious beliefs "would not be a defense for harm to a child for any crime," according to Regan of the district attorney's office.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Blind Man Uses Bat-Like Echolocation to 'See'

Like a bat, Daniel Kish uses echolocation to create an image of his environment. (The Legooners - World Access for the Blind)(LONG BEACH, Calif.) -- Daniel Kish was 13 months old when he lost his eyes to cancer, but that didn't stop him from getting around. By making a clicking noise with his tongue and listening for the echo, Kish could figure out where things were around him, a skill that baffled his parents.

"I don't know that they really noticed the clicking right away," said Kish, 45. "I think they just noticed that I was able to find my way around."

Kish has since mastered the skill, known as echolocation. Like a bat, he uses sound to see. Kish said his brain learned to interpret the information contained in the echoes and use it to construct images.

"It's basically a representation of what's taking up space in the environment based on location, dimension and depth of structure," meaning the solidness of objects, Kish said. "The image that you get," which is colorless and has no grayscale, "basically combines those characteristics."

As president of World Access for the Blind, a non-profit organization based in Long Beach, Calif., that image helps blind people learn to "get around more effectively and lead their lives with greater freedom," Kish teaches other blind people how to echolocate. And to better understand how the technique works, he teamed up with Canadian scientists for a brain imaging study.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers studied the pattern of activity in Kish's brain when he was listening to clicks and echoes. Instead of activating his auditory cortex, the area responsible for interpreting sound, the clicks and echoes appeared to activate Kish's visual cortex.

"It was really quite amazing," said Mel Goodale, director of the Centre for Brain and Mind at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and senior author of the study published Wednesday in PLoS One. "It looked like it was recruiting a good chunk of the primary visual cortex in his brain."

Kish said he hopes the study adds credibility to his approach, which could attract the resources needed to deliver it more widely.

"Right now, most of the funding goes toward vision preservation and restoration, which is fine for those individuals for whom it will work, but it won't work for everyone," Kish said. "We can help blind people see their environment now."

Kish and Goodale will reconnect for a follow-up study in June aimed at teasing out how the brain system interpreting the echoes is organized.

"Blind people should realize that this is an opportunity; that you can do quite a bit with echolocation," Goodale said "I think it's important to get it out there. It may not be for everyone, but it's worth a try."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio