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Stevie Wonder hoping for experimental eye surgery

Stevie Wonder

December 3, 1999
Web posted at: 1:01 p.m. EST (1801 GMT)

BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- Singer Stevie Wonder says he hopes to undergo an experimental operation that could make it possible for him to see.

The singer, who has retinitis pigmentosa and been blind nearly since birth, discussed the possibility recently at a funeral service in a Detroit church, said Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was in attendance.

Wonder, 49, met with Dr. Mark Humayun of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, who pioneered the treatment, a university spokesman said. The institute is the only place that performs the experimental procedure.

Humayun was not available for comment.

University spokesman Gary Stevenson said the singer met with Humayun "to discuss the concept of an intraocular lens retinal prosthesis."


What is blindness?

Stevie Wonder

Stevenson said doctors at the institute offered to examine Wonder "to determine if he would be an appropriate candidate for the IRP research trial" even though the treatment works best for someone who has not always been blind.

The IRP is still in development and "it is not known when it will be available for routine use in patients," Stevenson said.

So far, he said, Wonder has not made an appointment to be examined.

In intraocular retinal prosthesis, a computer chip is implanted in the retina. About 15 of the procedures have been carried out on an experimental basis, a spokesperson at Humayan's office said.

The experiments were conducted to see if electrical stimulation of the retinal surface can result in visual sensation in people suffering from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration. It can only offer the potential for partial restoration of vision.

According to information on the Johns Hopkins Web site, "Subjects perceived simple forms in response to pattern electrical stimulation of the retina. The results to date have supported this approach and show that vision compatible with mobility and large print reading is possible."

"They're just testing it. It (the computer chip) is not left in," the school's Claire Malone said.

She said the research phase was expected to last two to five years.

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Unofficial Stevie Wonder Home Page
Johns Hopkins University
Intraocular Retinal Prosthesis Group at Johns Hopkins University
Wilmer Eye Institute
International Retinitis Pigmentosa Association
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