The Argus

Happy Monday, dear reader of our blog!

And what is a better way to start the week than with some Greek Mythology? Have you heard of the Gigantes? They were Greek mythological creatures, closely related to the gods, who had a superhuman size and strength. For example there was Polyphemos, the shepherd cyclops who had his eye poked out by Odysseus. There was Orion, the hunter who could walk on water, and who you can still see as a constellation in the sky. And there was Argus.
Argus has slain many evildoers in his lifetime, snakes and bulls and satyrs alike. The thing he was most renown for, however, was the fact that he had a hundred eyes, covering all of his body, that were never sleeping all at the same time. This made him an excellent guardian, which is the job Hera, wife of Zeus, employed him for when she found a cow, who she thought was Io, one of the lovers of her husband, who he had transformed to keep her safe from Hera’s wrath. She was right, but she could not exert her wrath on Io after all, since Zeus sent Hermes to free his mistress, thereby slaying poor Argus.

Argus being slain by Hermes

But what does all of this have to do with the theme of this blog? Little, I admit, except for the giants’ connection to sight, which has led the company Second Sight to name a device after him.

The Argus

The Argus is a device targeted towards people who have lost their vision due damaged photo-receptors in the retina, which can be caused by the retinitis pigmentosa disease. It is a retinal implant, together with a pair of glasses that hold a camera, and an external video processing unit. The glasses capture a video, after which the processing unit converts it to instructions, which are send to the implant. These instructions are meant to (at least to a certain degree) replace the signals that would be coming from the photo-receptors. It effectively bypasses these damaged photo-receptors, and send signals directly to the brain.

The retinal implant, which bypasses the photo-receptors

 

Now, this does sadly not mean that the user regains all of their vision, but they will at least be able to see some shapes and outlines. This is where the fact that people with this implant were once able to see completely (in case of retinitis pigmentosa at least) comes in handy: they can use the memory of what things looked like to form complete images with the limited information they are getting through the device. And regardless, it is an improvement over being almost, or entirely blind.

You could see this more as a “restoring vision” device rather than a “replacing vision” one, but I found that this kind of tool deserves some highlighting as well. However, that does bring us to an interesting question. If you could choose what to invest your money in, would you rather invest it into a solution that “cure” blindness – that restores vision to people completely, or in one that circumvents blindness – basically changing the world to be more adaptive towards blind people? One would remove the problem completely, but keep in mind that there are many different causes for blindness, and equally as many solutions that would have to be found. The other would help people in accepting the disability, but would ultimately not solve the problem at the roots. What are your thoughts? I’m curious.

 

Koenraad