Scientists in Australia ready to implant a full bionic eye
Australian scientists are ready to begin trials of a new, fully implantable bionic eye. It is expected that this bionic eye will not only improve the vision of the patient but it will also be better than the current vision restoration devices.
The Phoenix99 – developed by a team of scientists at the University of New South Wales – is a fully implantable eye which has world’s first neural stimulation technology. It has already been tested and demonstrated successfully by a team of surgical experts in pre-clinical work. This device received a massive funding boost recently which helped the scientists to take their work to the next level – Human Implantation.
Greg Suaning – one of the co-inventor – said that they are really excited as the first trial was very successful and it proved that their technology works.
“We were really excited by the first trial because it proved the technology and implementation technique works. Patients will ‘learn’ to use the technology, in the same way a person implanted with a cochlear ear implant ‘learns’ to hear electrical impulse” said Greg Suaning.
The scientists at University of New South Wales were working on bionic eye technology since 1997, with an aim to restore the sight of people affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa – one of the leading cause of blindness in younger people – and Macular Degeneration.
There are 2 million people around the world that are affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa. It’s a degenerative condition that can be found in patients in their 30s. Gradually, it can lead to complete blindness in round about 10 years. The degeneration can only be slowed down with medicines, it cannot be reversed. Also, the medicines are available in developed countries only and they are expensive too.
One of the modern ways of restoring sight of people affected with Retinitis Pigmentation is via bionic vision. In 2012, a team tried with a partially implanted prototype device with three patients of Retinitis Pigmentation. The device was made up of 24-electrode array with some external devices which allowed the patients to see spots of light called Phosphenes. The special cameras on the device helped the users to get a sense of distance. The Phosphenes appeared brighter when still objects came closer.
The scientists from UNSW were part of that team.
The new Phoenix99, ready for trials is fully implantable, in-contrast to it’s predecessor devices. This is why they are expected to enable the user to have a better vision.
Nigel Lovell – co-inventor – wants to implant the Phoenix99 in 12 patients over a period of next two years. The whole process of implanting the bionic eye takes around 2-3 hours. There’s a small disc that goes behind the ear which transmits data and power the device.
The user also wears glasses, equipped with a special camera. The camera captures the images which define the stimulation of nerve cells in patient’s retina, sending signals to the visual cortex of the brain.
The scientists claim that their bionic eye has the potential to restore the vision of millions around the world. They may have found the solution to Retinitis Pigmentation problems and age related macular degeneration.
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has just released AU $1.1 million in new funding. But the scientists say that they will need an additional $10 million to make their bionic eye accessible by the mainstream medications over a span of 5 years.
If this is what they tell us, this could help improve the lives of 200 million people around the globe.