The next generation bionic eye

Based on our successful clinical trial of a bionic eye prototype, the Bionics Institute and collaborators* were awarded NHMRC funding to undertake a clinical trial with an advanced ‘take home’ wide-view bionic eye.

This trial is due to commence in 2018 and in the past year we have prepared for this next cohort of bionic eye recipients.

We have designed and constructed an upgraded version of the prototype device. As with the original device, the next generation electrode array will be implanted between the two back layers of the eye (suprachoroidal location). This novel approach requires relatively easy surgery compared to other possible locations for electrodes within the eye and proved to be safe, stable, and reliable. Importantly, it was shown to be effective in eliciting visual perceptions in the recipients, allowing them to identify shapes, perceive movement, and undertake unassisted navigation tasks.

Our recent work has also been concerned with designing a portable vision processor that can be used by recipients in their everyday activities.

The new clinical trial will test the safety and effectiveness of the next generation wide-view bionic eye. Whereas the prototype device used an external plug to connect the electrodes to lab equipment, the next generation device will be fully implantable and portable. This will allow the continued testing of the recipients’ perceptions within our purpose-built laboratory and also enable the recipients to use the device in everyday life.

The complete device will incorporate an external vision processing unit that will connect to a small video camera contained within spectacles.

This is a significant step forward in the development of an Australian bionic eye since it will allow the recipients to receive maximum benefit from using the device and the researchers will be able to obtain far more information about the device’s capabilities.

*The chief investigators in this NHMRC project grant are: Dr Penelope Allen (Centre for Eye Research Australia, CERA); A/Prof Chris Williams (Bionics Institute); Dr Lauren Ayton (CERA); Dr Chi Luu (CERA); A/Prof Nicholas Barnes (NICTA); and Dr Matthew Petoe (Bionics Institute).

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