Only a few years ago it would have been hard to imagine a human being having their sight restored with a ‘bionic eye’. However, technology has now reached a point where it is about to become a reality!
It was recently announced that the NHS is going to pay for 10 patients to be fitted with a bionic eye to try and improve their vision. 5 patients are to be treated in Manchester, and 5 in London, with the results of the trial eagerly anticipated.
Following on from this news, we thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into what a bionic eye actually is, and how they enable people to see again.
The Bionic Eye
While it may sound almost magical, the way a bionic eye operates is a result of skilled scientific work and the latest advances in technology.
The Argus 2 Retinal Prosthesis System is a retinal implant used in combination with a pair of glasses. A miniature video camera is mounted on the glasses to capture live images.
These images are then sent to a small computer and converted into instructions, which are transmitted wirelessly to the retinal implant. This causes ripples of electricity which stimulates the retina’s remaining cells, and sends visual information to the brain via the optic nerve.
At the current time, the Argus system can only be used to treat patients suffering from severe or profound retinitis pigmentosa, which is a condition that destroys light cells in the eye, eventually causing blindness.
It is also important to note that it does not restore normal eyesight.
Patients must learn to interpret the visual data their brain receives. This new way of ‘seeing’ things can improve a persons quality of life, meaning they may no longer have to rely on touch alone, and can navigate their way around a room without bumping into objects.
Can It Help Other Eye Diseases?
Although the bionic eye the NHS is testing is specifically for retinitis pigmentosa, there are also a number of other companies and researchers developing their own products, and two of them can help age related macular degeneration (AMD).
Bionic Vision Australia is a collaborative programme that is creating a device which could be potentially game-changing – AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the western world! Their High Acuity system will initially treat people with retinitis pigmentosa but will then progress to be used in AMD patients too.
VisionCare Inc have recently had their implantable telescope system approved in the United States by the FDA. Again, this unit is targeted to help sufferers of age related macular degeneration.
The device is smaller than a pea and is implanted into one eye, magnifying images over a wider area of the retina, and enhancing the patients visual perception. However, it is not a cure for AMD, and can not currently be used in people who have had cataract surgery.
There have also been reports that ‘bionic lenses’ will be manufactured. According to the inventor, these implantable lenses would give vision that is 3 times better than 20/20! In addition, the surgery to place the lens is planned to take 8 minutes and would be as painless as cataract surgery.
However, the lens still has not come to market and question marks exist as to whether it will.
Lens Replacement has been approved in the UK for a number of years, and at AVC we specialise in this treatment. An artificial lens replaces the natural eye lens to successfully correct numerous eye problems – near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia can all be rectified.
Due to the fact that the new lens is artificial, there is no chance of cataracts developing in the future. It is a way to help improve serious vision issues without waiting for costly and, as yet, unproven bionic lenses.