Restoring sight: Australia’s bionic eye

Four patients have had a sense of vision restored after having Australia’s bionic eye surgically implanted as part of a clinical trial in Melbourne, Victoria.

The four patients have a degenerative genetic condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa which causes loss of vision. It affects about one in every 4,000 people, affecting 1.5 million people worldwide. It is the leading cause of inherited blindness; there is currently no cure.

In 2012, three patients were implanted with an early version of the device which showed success, but restricted use to the lab.
This second-generation device allows patients navigate outside and, more importantly, in their homes without the need for supervision. Melbourne researchers have been working hard to create the portable and permanent device over the last five years, to ensure that patients with the implant can have an improved quality of life.

The bionic eye consists of both implanted and body worn components. The patient wears glasses with a small video camera mounted on the side. Then, the live feed from the camera is processed and transmitted via an implanted microchip to an electrode array placed in a naturally occurring pocket behind the retina, called the suprachoroidal space. The electrodes stimulate remaining cells in the retina, to generate spots of light that give a patient a sense of vision.

Associate Professor Penny Allen, head of the Vitreoretinal Unit at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, said she was pleased with the results.

“Each of the patients has returned home after surgery and are working with the clinical and research team to learn to use the device and incorporate it into their everyday lives.

“Based on our results so far, we know that our approach is safer and less invasive, and the patients have all made impressive progress with mobility and activities of daily living,” said A/Prof Allen.

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