June 24, 1994
Media Contact:Joann Rodgers
Phone: (410) 955-8659
E-mail: JRodgers@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

The Low Vision Enhancement System (LVES), a battery-powered high-tech visual aid worn like goggles, is now available to selected patients in seven cities.

The LVES was developed by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Veterans Administration.

The device, pronounced "Elvis," is designed to enhance and compensate for low vision in people whose eyesight with conventional eyeglasses is worse than 20/100 in their better eye, but better than 20/800.

"LVES does not fix vision or restore vision. Instead, it alters images to make them easier for people to see with the vision they still have," says Robert W. Massot Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology at Hopkins and lead inventor. He also directs the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at Wilmer.

The lightweight headset is fitted with three miniature, black-and-white video cameras. Two of the cameras,,one over each eye, provide a normal, 3-D view to observe what's happening in their environment. A third, more complex camera is used for seeing facial features, fine details of objects, distant objects, or for close-up, detailed work and reading.

Controls built into a battery pack worn on the belt let the wearer adjust contrast and magnify images from 1.5 to 10 times. The unit automatically compensates for changes in lighting to reduce glare in bright light. In addition to displaying images from the built-in video cameras, a cable connection lets the LVES become a personal largescreen display for input from televisions, videocassette recorders or computers.

Patients who wish to participate in the initial distribution program should have had experience using low-vision devices or have been in a low-vision program at a health-care or rehabilitation facility.

"Now that the development and preliminary testing phases are completed, this next step is to refine our ability to evaluate patients who might benefit from the device, to evaluate users and train them to use it," Massof says. "And we'll be expanding our program to train eye-care specialists and prescribe the LVES. If all goes well, the LVES will be more generally available in 1995.11

Future LVES models will compensate for distorted vision and blind spots caused by diseases of the macula, the part of the retina of the eye responsible for sharp vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a major disease of the retina, is caused by the death of light-sensitive cells in macula, which people use for detailed work, such as reading.

They also will be able to compensate for rapid movement of disorienting, magnified images, and to improve contrast that makes faces more easily recognizable.

"Our engineers are experienced in building vision systems for the military, like the helmetmounted displays that helicopter pilots used during Operation Desert Storm," says Brad Blankenship, president of Visionics Corp. (Vadnais Heights, Minn.), the manufacturer of the LVES. "To use such high technology for this uniquely peaceful, beneficial application is very satisfying."

Most patients receiving the LVES will be fitted and trained at several Veterans Administration medical centers, Massof says. "ne VA has the best programs in the United States for rehabilitating people who are blind or visually impaired," he says.

The LVES is being manufactured and sold by Visionics on an exclusive basis worldwide. Johns Hopkins owns the patent and holds equity in the company. The device, which costs $5,200, is registered with the Food and Drug Administration, but not yet covered by Medicare, according to Massol As more units become available in the future, the price is expected to be reduced.

In addition to Wilmer, other locations offering the LVES are the Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation (Wheaton, El.), the Center for the Partially Sighted (Santa Monica, Calif.), and the Veterans Administrations medical facilities in Palo Alto, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Northport, N.Y.; West Haven, Conn.; and the Baltimore and Fort Howard Veterans Administration Medical Centers in Maryland.

-- JHMI --
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