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European scientists have joined the race to produce an artificial retina with research that could help restore the sight of thousands of people suffering from retinal disease.

Belgian Professor Claude Veraart says that a prototype device has been implanted in two patients so far, according to a Reuters report. He said that 15 teams of researchers are working on the problem, but that the Belgian trials had produced the best results so far. The Belgian team co-ordinates a pan-European research effort, involving scientists in France and Germany.

As with similar work in the United States, the prosthetic retina works by passing artificially stimulating the optic nerve, in line with signals from a tiny digital camera mounted on a pair of glasses.

The technology could be used to treat conditions like macular degeneration, or retinitis pigmentosa, a condition where the eye's photoreceptors are inactive, but the connection from the eye to the brain is intact.

Veraat said the device would likely cost around €20,000. The European Commission said it would be available commercially by 2010, possibly as early as 2008. The Commission has also made grants totaling €2.79m available for research into treating blindness and partial visual impairment. ®

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