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High Hopes for New Eye Technology
From NBC News,
original URL http://www.msnbc.com:80/news/343805.asp?cp1=1

Churchey Brothers
A new eye procedure may allow the Churchey brothers to enjoy a measure of sight.
Approach may help some blind people
By Robert Bazell
NBC NEWS




Dec. 7 — There’s a remarkable new technology that could someday allow blind people to enjoy a measure of sight. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say the procedure is already showing the first signs of success.

HAROLD AND Carroll Churchey, 72-year-old identical twins who are both legally blind, are volunteers in a project to develop a remarkable new device that may actually enable blind people to see again.

        “There’s a lot of blind people in this whole world, a lot of blind people, and through this procedure, if I can help them, I’m all for it,” Harold Churchey said.

Invented at Johns Hopkins, the device transmits images from a computer chip attached to the retina at the back of the eye. The idea: Electrical signals jumpstart dying light-sensing cells in the retina so they work once again.

        “We’re very, very confident that this is something of the near future,” said Dr. Mark Humayan of Hopkins.


        The research got a lot of attention recently when singer Stevie Wonder revealed he had traveled to Hopkins for a consultation.

        “It is true that if ever it’s possible for that surgery to be done, I would do it,” Wonder said.

        But the doctors did not offer the singer much hope for now because of the particular nature of his blindness.

        “He was born blind. So his situation is going to be tougher,” Humayan said.


HOPE FOR SOME
        But the technology is beginning to work for people who lose their eyesight slowly over decades from a disintegration of the retina — people like the Churchey brothers.

        “I thought this is the beginning of something good that’s going to happen sometime down in the future,” said Carroll Churchey.

        Now the brothers rely on their wives and on reading aides like talking computers to cope. But as part of the experiment they traveled from their homes in Western Maryland to Johns Hopkins to have prototype devices hooked up to their eyes for short periods. They managed to see patterns of light once again, giving hope for even greater success ahead.

        “I can’t wait till I can see my wife, and my son and my grandson,” said Harold Churchey, crying.

        The doctors say attempts to fully restore vision could begin within three years.


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Date last modified December 09, 1999