Bionic eye may soon restore vision in patients with certain types of blindness | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: June 22, 2024

Scientists at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales have developed an impressive device that sparks new hope for people with certain types of blindness—a bionic eye.

The novel prosthesis, called the Phoenix99 Bionic Eye, is designed to restore the sight of patients with blindness caused by degenerative conditions like retinitis pigmentosa, which means that despite the compromised retina, the patients’ optic nerve remains functional.

The Phoenix99 prototype has already been successfully tested on the bodies of sheep during a three-month study. The surrounding tissue in the area where the implants were positioned did not experience any adverse reactions, so the team can reasonably believe that the system will remain safely in place for several years. A paper on this study was published in Biomaterials.

How does the Phoenix99 Bionic Eye work?

The bionic eye system includes a pair of glasses on which a small camera is mounted. The camera transmits the images before the wearer, and its output is made into a wireless signal. This signal is then transmitted to a communication module placed underneath the skin behind the patient’s ear, which decodes the video signal into a pattern of electrical pulses.

These pulses are sent to a stimulation module which is implanted directly onto the retina in the affected eye(s). Finally, this device bypasses the retina’s faulty photoreceptor neurons and instead stimulates the underlying retinal ganglion cells directly. These cells are the ones responsible for gathering input from other retinal cells and sending it through the optic nerve to the brain.

“With regards to the quality of the restored vision, we know that it will be very different from what one would call normal vision,” Samuel Eggenberger, a University of Sydney biomedical engineer tells New Atlas. “Similar concepts of electrical stimulation of the retina have been tested in humans around the world and the results have been very variable, but expectations should be that the prosthesis will provide simple information about the person’s surroundings such as detecting obstacles, with the purpose to help with navigation, orientation, or even reading of big letters.”

The team is now taking the next step by applying for approval to conduct clinical trials on humans.

“We hope that through this technology, people living with profound vision loss from degenerative retinal disorders may be able to regain a useful sense of vision,” Eggenberger states.

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