The World’s First Bionic Eye has Been Implanted
Bionic eyes might sound like something in your favourite sci-fi show, but surgeons in Manchester in the UK have made them a reality.
The recipient was one Mr Ray Flynn, an 80-year-old with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which causes most sight loss cases in the developed world.
AMD is so common that it’s thought that half a million people are living with some degree of the condition in the UK alone. And there currently isn’t any treatment for it.
Mr Flynn had been struggling with his central vision for almost a decade, and it had deteriorated to the point that he was relying solely on his peripheral vision.
“I am unable to put the numbers in for my card when paying in the shop or at the bank,” he explained. He added that he used to love gardening, but it got to the point where he couldn’t tell the weeds from the flowers.
US company Second Sight manufactures retinal prosthetics, such as an implant called the Argus II. This implant was designed to restore some of the functional vision for people suffering from blindness caused by something called retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative disease.
But for the first time, the Argus II would be implanted in a patient with AMD.
Last month, Professor Paulo Stanga led a medical team at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital in an operation on Mr Flynn that would take four hours to complete. Professor Stanga, of ophthalmology and retinal regeneration at the University of Manchester, is also a consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at the hospital.
They implanted the Argus II, which receives its visual information from a mini camera mounted on Mr Flynn’s glasses. The images the implant receives are converted into electrical pulses and transmitted to electrodes attached to the retina in the eye. The remaining cells in the retina are stimulated into sending the information to the brain.
Two weeks after the operation, Mr Flynn underwent some tests to check out how his bionic eyes were doing. During these tests, white lines crossed a computer screen and Mr Flynn had to tell which direction they were travelling in. Of course, because the information received from the camera on his glasses, Mr Flynn had his eyes closed during the tests.
And he proved that he was now able to see which way the lines were going, something he wouldn’t have been able to do at all before his operation.
Professor Stanga described Mr Flynn’s progress and truly remarkable, explaining that the information his brain is receiving is new and so his brain needs to get used to interpreting it.
Although the implant can’t replace the standard of vision Mr Flynn once enjoyed, he’s delighted with the results. He hopes it won’t be long before he can get back to the things he loves doing, like watching football and gardening. He’s even looking forward to the little day-to-day tasks like shopping.
And all this is thanks to him becoming the first person in the world with combine natural and artificial vision – the first person in the world with bionic eyes.
“He has not given up on losing his central vision; he is a motivated patient and that is crucial,” explained Professor Stanga. “I think this could be the beginning of a new era for patients with sight loss.”