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“Bionic Eye” Offers Hope for the Blind


Posted on Mar 22, 2013

Technology is opening new worlds for people with disabilities. In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first retinal implant. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is an artificial retina or “bionic eye” that will help adults with vision loss due to a rare genetic eye disease called advanced retinitis pigmentosa.

Retinitis pigmentosa occurs in about one out of every 4,000 people and tends to run in families.   

Advanced retinitis pigmentosa damages the cells in the retina, the layer of tissue in the back of the eye that converts images into the nerve signals that are sent to the brain. Symptoms include: 

  • Trouble seeing at night
  • Trouble seeing in low light
  • Loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision)
  • Loss of central vision
  • Blindness

The artificial retina is part of a system that includes a small video camera and transmitter which are mounted to a pair of eyeglasses, a video processing unit, and the artificial retina implant.

The video camera sends images to the video processing unit. The images are then transformed into electronic data that is sent to the artificial retina to produce images. The device cannot restore vision completely, but it can improve the patient’s ability to recognize images, detect movement, and perceive light and dark. This is enough to provide greater independence to those with advanced retinitis pigmentosa.

In one study, thirty patients who received the device were able to match socks by color, identify letters, read 4-letter words, and walk on a sidewalk without stepping off.

The “bionic eye” is not without risks. Eleven of the patients in the study experienced side-effects ranging from opening of surgical wounds to retinal detachment and erosion of the covering of the conjunctiva.

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System is manufactured by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc. 

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