Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary to offer vision-restoring treatment

The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System has been selected as the only center in Illinois to offer an implanted artificial retina that lets patients with very low or no vision to see shapes and movement. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, recently FDA-approved, will be available at UI Health’s Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Rohit Varma

Rohit Varma, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and associate dean for strategic planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine Photo: Joshua Clark (click on image for larger file size)

“We are very excited to be able to provide this new treatment to our patients,” says Dr. Rohit Varma, professor and head of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. “The artificial retina has been long anticipated by ophthalmologists and patients, and has improved the quality of life of people with very low or no vision by giving them some degree of sight — and along with that, greater freedom, independence and safety in their daily lives.”

In clinical trials, patients with the retinal prosthetic device were able to perform better with the device than without it at tasks such as perceiving large letters, detecting street curbs, walking along a sidewalk, and matching black, gray and white socks.

The Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary was selected as the regional site to offer the new technology by Second Sight, the developer of the Argus II System. The device is designed to treat patients 25 and older with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic degenerative eye condition that damages light-sensitive cells in the retina. In healthy eyes, these cells change light into electrical impulses and send them through the optic nerve to the area of the brain that translates them into images. In people with the disease, the light-sensitive cells slowly degenerate, resulting in gradual loss of peripheral and night vision, and later, central vision.

“We see a significant number of patients with retinitis pigmentosa here at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary,” said Varma. “Some of them are probably very good candidates for the Argus II System.” Sometime later this year, Varma expects the surgical team to implant the first artificial retina in Illinois.

The Argus II System consists of a miniature camera housed in a pair of glasses that converts video images into electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes implanted on the surface of the retina. These pulses stimulate the retina’s remaining cells to send their own signals through the optic nerve to the brain where the signals are translated into images.

Dr. Jennifer Lim, director of retina services at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, will lead the surgical team. Drs. William Mieler, Yannek Leiderman, Lawrence Ulanski, Felix Chau and Joan Stelmack will be on the Argus II team.

The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System provides comprehensive care, education and research to the people of Illinois and beyond. The UI Health System includes a 495-bed tertiary hospital; the University of Illinois at Chicago colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Nursing, and Applied Health Sciences, the UIC School of Public Health and UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work; 22 outpatient clinics located in Chicago; 12 federally qualified health centers throughout the city; and College of Medicine and affiliated health care facilities in Urbana, Peoria and Rockford.