Will “Bionic Eyes” Restore Vision to Patients Blinded by Retinal Disease?

August 28, 2016

A retinal prosthesis – or “bionic eye” in popular culture – is an electronic implant that bypasses damaged retina cells to send visual signals to the brain.

In May 2016, the Foundation Fighting Blindness published a short article providing an overview of retinal prosthesis technologies currently available, in clinical trial, or being researched to restore vision to patients blinded by retinal disease.

As per the article, the only retinal prosthesis currently available for implantation outside of clinical trials is the Argus II, manufactured by Second Sight, which captures images with a mini-camera embedded in glasses and converts them into electrical pulses sent wirelessly to tiny electrodes implanted surgically on the front surface of the retina. In turn, the pulses stimulate the retina’s remaining cells to send patterns of nerve impulses, representing the images, along the optic nerve to the brain.

The Foundation reports that patients who have an Argus II implant have had some visual perception restored, allowing them to better orient themselves in a room or negotiate daily tasks. An early three-year clinical trial of the Argus II implant published in January 2012 found that participants with profound visual loss performed better on visual tasks with the implant than without it.

Unfortunately, the Foundation advises that there is presently no insurance coverage or government subsidies for the implant, which is currently priced at $100,000, plus the cost of the surgery.

All of the other retinal prostheses discussed in the Foundation’s article remain in clinical trial or are only at the research stage.

Click here to read the full Foundation Fighting Blindness article.




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