We were very interested and excited to hear the news of a man who says he can now see flashes of light for the first time since he lost his sight 30 years ago thanks to a new bionic eye. It sounds like science fiction, but it is a great sign of what might actually be possible in the future. Ron, who is in his seventies had the experimental surgery seven months ago and now says he can follow white lines on the road and even sort out his socks thanks to his new bionic eye. Ron’s wife is especially pleased, saying “I’ve taught him how to use the washing machine and away he goes. It’s just the ironing next.” Image Source: National Geographic Society The eye, known as Argus II uses a camera mounted on some stylish sunglasses to capture images which it then sends wirelessly to a tiny receiver which has been surgically attached to the outside of the eye. The data is then sent from the receiver on the outside of the eye to an array of electrodes which have been attached to Ron’s retina. The retina at the back of the eye is very sensitive to light. When the electrodes attached to the retina are stimulated they send messages along the optic nerve to the brain, which is able to perceive patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to which electrodes have been stimulated. So far 18 patients across the world have been fitted with the bionic eye – developed by US company Second Sight. The device is designed to help people who have become blind through retinitis pigmentosa, a group of inherited eye diseases that cause degeneration of the retina over a number of years. An estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people are affected by the disease in the UK alone. The bionic eye may not be able to help its user read fine text yet but it is a very promising sign for the future. So far the implants have been stable and functioning for six months. There are still another two years of the trial to run. Ron’s story will be featured on tonight’s episode (4th March 2009) of Inside Out at 19:30 on BBC One. For more on this story visit the BBC News site and to find out more about how the surgery/technology works go here. Further Reading: –
- Trials for ‘bionic’ eye implants – A nice article on the BBC News site with more details about how the technology works with images.
- Bionic Eye ‘ Blindness Cure Hope’
- A news clip from the BBC of another patient in the US with the same experimental surgery