Scientists from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia have successfully restored partial vision in a 50-year-old woman, diagnosed with blinding disease at the age of 13, with the help of an electronic eye implant.
The bionic eye was developed by Second Sight under the lead of Dr. Mark Humayun.
It is a component of the Argus II Retinal Stimulation System and is designed to stimulate retinal cells directly.
In a healthy eye, photoreceptor cells of the retina receive light and translate it into signals that are sent to the brain via the optic nerve. But in patients with a genetic, blinding disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), these light-processing cells gradually degenerate, leading to severe vision loss or total blindness.
"With this system, people who are functionally blind might begin to distinguish light from dark, recognize visual patterns, make out figures, see food on a plate and navigate in unfamiliar surroundings," said lead researcher Dr. Del Priore, professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and an ophthalmologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Centre.
"In its current form, the device won't restore full visual function - but if it dramatically reduces a patient's disability, that is a major advance," Priore added.
Argus II comprises three components: the implanted part, which is placed inside the patient's eye; a tiny camera and transmitter, mounted on a pair of sunglasses; and a wireless microprocessor and battery pack, to be worn on a belt.
The implant itself contains 60 tiny electrodes that are attached to the retina via a micro-wire roughly the width of a human hair. These administer electrical impulses to retinal cells, allowing the brain to perceive light.