Bionic eye research
Why is new technology needed for vision impairment
Genetic diseases affecting the retina at the back of the eye are the leading cause of blindness in working age adults and affect over 2 million people worldwide .
Vision loss is progressive and there is no cure, so new technology is needed to aid navigation of the environment for people who are blind.
Development of the Australian bionic eye
Bionics Institute researchers have worked closely with collaborators at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, CSIRO and ANU for several years to develop a medical device that can restore vision to people with retinitis pigmentosa, which affects the function of the retina.
The bionic eye is an implant inserted into the retina that is attached to a video camera built into a pair of glasses. The camera converts images into electrical impulses that activate retinal cells using 44 electrodes designed and manufactured by the Bionics Institute.
In 2018, a prototype bionic eye containing these electrodes was implanted into four people with no vision due to retinitis pigmentosa.
The patients reported that the prototype gave them a ‘sense of vision’ – the ability to detect edges, shapes and movement. The trial successfully demonstrated that this device is safe and provides significant improvement to quality of life and functional vision to the four recipients, encouraging more independence, social interaction and awareness of the environment.
Next steps for Bionics Institute researchers
In partnership with the Australian medical technology company, Bionic Vision Technologies, the next step is to initiate worldwide clinical trials ahead of seeking regulatory approval in key markets, subject to additional capital funding.
In parallel, the team is beginning work on the next generation retinal implant system that will provide a higher level of visual acuity needed to benefit a broader range of patients with retinitis pigmentosa.
This will be achieved by employing an innovative Neural Activity Shaping (NAS) stimulation strategy that will be tested to address all major safety and efficacy risks considered by a human ethics committee prior to allowing a first-in-human trial. If you would like more information about the next bionic eye clinical trial, please go to the Centre for Eye Research Australia website: https://www.cera.org.au/take-part-in-research/
Centre for Eye Research Australia collaborators:
Associate Professor Penny Allen, Maria Kolic, Elizabeth Baglin and Dr Carla Abbott.
More information for researchers
This second-generation retinal prosthesis contains 44 platinum disc electrodes, each of 1 mm exposed diameter, arranged in a staggered grid in the leading foveal segment of a 19 × 8 mm silicone substrate. The novelty of this device, in comparison to other retinal prostheses, is that the electrode array is inserted in a natural cleavage plane between the choroid and the sclera; hence we term this device a “suprachoroidal electrode array”. The active electrodes cover 10.00 × 7.5 mm of retina, corresponding with approximately 37.6 × 27.6° of visual field dependent on lateralisation to the fovea and viability of remaining visual neurons.
Images from a head-worn camera undergo several stages of vision processing to refine the visual environment into salient information about foreground objects or obstacles. Seven recipients to-date (first and second-generation devices) have demonstrated significant improvements to their functional vision in screen-based assessments and real-world activities of daily living .
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Kvansakul, J., Hamilton, L., Ayton, L. N., McCarthy, C., & Petoe, M. A. (2020). Sensory augmentation to aid training with retinal prostheses. Journal of Neural Engineering, 17(4), 12. doi:10.1088/1741-2552/ab9e1d