Blind people suffering from rare eye disease have been given new hope with the successful trial of a bionic eye which partially restores vision.
A recent 60 Minutes story, in addition to several clinical trials around the world, have profiled the bionic eye in relation to sufferers of rare eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, which is inherited and incurable.
Retinitis pigmentosa causes the gradual degeneration of light receptors in the retina, severely impairing vision and leading to blindness in many cases. The bionic eye is a retinal implant that stimulates electrical impulses within, sending this information to the brain to “trick” it into allowing vision, albeit not normal vision but enough for the patient to make out shapes and perceive shades of light. This allows the patient to resume some of the basic tasks of living not possible before the implant.
The bionic eye is currently not available in Australia, although development is well under way. It is thought such devices will also help in the treatment of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness globally.
The bionic eye, called Argus II, consists of two separate components: a camera and visual processing unit the patient wears, and the surgically-implanted antenna and electrodes. Results are not instantaneous, as it takes time for a patient not used to seeing for a long time to re-learn how to interpret visual information, and to adapt to the data provided by the electrode signals.
Such advances are bringing technology and ophthalmology closer together, while also expanding the field of neuro-ophthalmology into exciting new areas.