News on the bionic eye

Bionic eyes, otherwise called visual prostheses, have had a lot of news coverage of late. Similar to the cochlear implants that have restored people’s hearing since the 1980s, visual prostheses hold hope for those who have had a functional vision loss in that they may let people see again. For someone who has completely lost their sight, recovering any form of vision however small can be a wonderful experience.

Many different systems are being trialled at present. Some involve using a camera to send an image to the patient’s visual cortex at the back of the brain, where vision is processed. Others use a camera which sends signals to the nerves in the retina, where light is normally converted to nerve impulses in a healthy eye. There are also other systems that involve using the patient’s existing eye, placing a light detecting microchip on the retina.

One of the most recent breakthroughs was from a German medical technology company, Retina Implant AG. They use a light detecting microchip implanted directly on the retina. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, three blind patients have been able to see shapes and objects for the first time since they lost their sight. Before having the implants fitted all three could detect light but had no shape recognition. Within days of undergoing surgery, all three could identify objects such as a cup and a saucer as well as some geometric shapes. One patient could even tell the time on a clock face and read his own name. Successes such as this povide a lot of hope for the future. You can read the full story here.