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World’s First Bionic Eye Implant for Macular Degeneration

An electronic implant could help solve the most common cause of vision loss in adults. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that slowly destroys the central vision that is needed to see objects clearly. Millions of people with AMD have trouble reading, driving, recognizing faces, and performing daily routine tasks. Now, an 80-year-old British man named Ray Flynn is the first person in the world to receive an implant that corrects AMD.

Doctors successfully implanted a device called the Argus II, a retinal prosthesis made by Second Sight, a medical device manufacturer with headquarters in California and Switzerland. The implant consists of an electrode array that is embedded in the eye’s retina, a battery, and a wireless antenna. Patients also wear electronic glasses that have a forward-facing camera, a radio transmitter, and a video processing unit (VPU). The camera captures images and sends the signal to the VPU for processing. That signal is then sent up to the glasses, where a transmitter wirelessly beams the signal to the implant’s antenna. Then electrodes stimulate the retina and help the brain perceive patterns of light.

Flynn will now have the challenge of learning to interpret these visual patterns, but overall, doctors say the improvement in his vision is better than expected. The results are good, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The vision provided by the implant is black and white, with clarity equivalent to about 60 pixels, which is only enough to help Flynn see simple patterns and shapes. Researchers are working on developing ways to change the device so the brain can perceive color. The system is controlled by software that can be upgraded to improve performance when new algorithms are developed.

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The system is already approved in the United States and the European Union, but only for treating retinitis pigmentosa, a different form a vision loss that primarily effects the peripheral vision. Now, Flynn’s success demonstrates that it can also be used to restore central vision. Assuming continued positive results, the company plans to conduct a larger study to support market approvals for using Argus II for AMD treatment.

Source: Ars Technica | Second Sight

Photo by bark

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