William H. Dobelle

William H. Dobelle
William Harvey Dobelle
Born October 24, 1941(1941-10-24)
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA
Died October 5, 2004(2004-10-05) (aged 62)
New York City, USA
Spouse Claire Dobelle
Children 3

William H. Dobelle (October 24, 1941-October 5, 2004) was a biomedical researcher who developed experimental technologies that restored limited sight to blind patients. In addition, Dobelle is known for the major impact that he and his company have had on the breathing pacemaker and the medical community as a whole. He was nominated with Dr. Willem Johan Kolff for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003. He is also credited as Dr. William Dobelle, Dr. William H. Dobelle, William Harvey Dobelle, Bill Dobelle and Dr. Bill Dobelle. Dobelle is also known for for his extensive travels, having reportedly visited all 7 continents, at least 125 countries and all 50 U.S. states.


Childhood and family

Dr. William Harvey Dobelle was the son of Martin Dobelle and Lillian Mendelsohn Dobelle, born in Pittsfield, MA on October 24, 1941. Martin Dobelle's father had immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. His mother Lillian was born the youngest of ten children to the immensely wealthy Mendelsohn family. William's younger brother Evan Dobelle, an American politician and educator, was born in 1945. His father Martin Dobelle, a major orthopedic surgeon whose patients included US astronauts, sparked William Dobelle's original interest and early experience in medicine. At the age of 13 Dobelle designed improvements for the artificial hip for which he received patents. He started college the following year at Vanderbilt. At 15 he won the State of Florida science fair for construction of an original concept x-ray machine. He moved on to win the National Science Fair.


William graduated high school at the age of 14 to attend college at Vanderbilt University. He soon transferred to Johns Hopkins University where he immersed himself into the Hopkin's leading science community. He earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in biophysics at Johns Hopkins University where he worked on the development of medical tests. He finished his Ph.D. in neurophysiology at the University of Utah.


Although his international travels began at a young age, Dobelle never lost the "Travel Bug". When being interviewed for Dobelle's obituary, a former representative of the Explorers Club in New York City, which Dobelle was a long-time member of, claimed that Dobelle had travelled to all 7 continents, at least 125 countries and all 50 U.S. States. The representative also explained that Dobelle was the first person he ever saw bring one of his children to the lavish banquets. He recalls a night in the early 1990s in which Dobelle brought his very young son to indulge alongside his father in crocodile meat, Dobelle's favorite. The explorer is said to, on several occasions throughout his 20's, have left to travel the world for months at a time, occasionally sending home a postcard from a distant country. Two of his most notable expeditions to were to South America, one of which was responsible for tracking the original route of Vasco Núñez de Balboa. He spent one day in Antarctica on this same journey.

In his youth, Dobelle had briefly worked on a whaling boat and as a Porsche mechanic.

When Dobelle was last tested, his IQ (Intelligence Quotient) was measured to be 168, therefore given the cognitive designation of "high genius".


Dobelle was the CEO of the Dobelle Institute, headquartered in Lisbon, Portugal, which concentrates on artificial vision for the blind. He was associate director of the Institute of Biological Engineering at the University of Utah and director of the Division of Artificial Organs at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. He was a founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. He was also inducted as a Founding Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 1993, one of the highest honors available to an American scientist. Dr. Dobelle was inducted into the National Academy of Science in 1996 and was a co- nominee with Dr. Willem Johan Kolff for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003.

Artificial Vision

He bought Avery Laboratories (now Avery Biomedical Devices) in 1983, where he worked on neurostimulation and the artificial eye. Dr. Dobelle led one of several teams of scientists around the world seeking to develop technology for artificial vision.[1] Dobelles' teams developed a brain implant which films the visual field in front of the patient and transmits it to the brain's visual cortex, allowing the patient to see outlines. He received widespread publicity in 2000 after his system restored limited navigational abilities to a blind volunteer. His "vision project" has been experimented in several people, allowing individuals who were once completely blind to see images in the form of white dots on a black background. In 2002, his creation even allowed 38 year-old Jens Smith, a blind man, to drive a car at the 48th annual American Society for Artificial Internal Organs conference.

Portable Breathing Pacemaker

Avery's portable breathing pacemaker has been used by patients with quadriplegia, central apnea, and other respiratory ailments.


Dobelle died in 2004 from complications related to Diabetes. He is survived by his wife Claire Dobelle, and their three children, Martin (b.1990), Molly (b.1992) and Mimi (b. 1993).

Notable family members

  • Dobelle's brother, Evan Dobelle, is an American politician and educator.
  • Dobelle's father, Martin Dobelle, was a veteran orthopedic surgeon.
  • Dobelle's brother in law, Michael Wigler, is a pioneering molecular biologist and fellow member of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Dobelle's widow, Claire Dobelle, is a retired business woman and television producer.

See also

  • Visual prosthetic


  1. ^ A bionic visionary for the blind February 19, 2003 Sydney Morning Herald


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