A Better Bionic Eye
A patient in Australia has become the first recipient of a new bionic eye implant. Dianne Ashworth, who lost her vision due to an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa, has regained some limited vision thanks to a prototype system from Bionic Vision Australia.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash … it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye,” Ashworth said.
The device is a retinal implant with 24 electrodes (the array is constructed from a synthetic diamond material), and works by stimulating neurons in the retina with electrical impulses. A wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear, and an external system then connects to the unit in the laboratory so researchers can stimulate the implant. The tests with Ashworth will allow the company to develop a vision processor for building images using “flashes of light.” Next up: incorporating an external camera (mounted on glasses) that can transmit signals to the microchip retinal implant.
For the system to work, the patient must have a functional visual pathway from the retina to the brain, and some intact retinal cells. The company is also developing a 98-electrode implant, as well as a high-acuity implant with 1,024 electrodes.
The research has been funded by a $42 million grant from the Australian Research Council.
There is already one retinal implant on the market, the Argus II from Second Sight, which uses 60 electrodes. That device has been available for two years, and allows patients to perceive basic shapes and other forms. Bionic Vision’s higher-electrode models would surpass that functionality once the devices are ready for implantation.
You can view a video of Ashworth’s initial tests below:
Source: Bionic Vision Australia