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We've been waiting on the prospect of a bionic eye for a while now; being able to surgically give sight to the sightless would be a medical breakthrough, and we're right on the cusp. Exhibit A: In a world first, scientists have successfully implanted a prototype bionic eye that has helped a woman see shapes.
Researchers from the government-funded consortium Bionic Vision Australia made the announcement in a statement yesterday; in it the implantee said she "didn't know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash--it was amazing." The team is hoping they can start to "build" shapes based on what she sees, eventually creating a bionic eye that works like its organic counterpart.
The prototype device is set up in a lab. Electrodes in the implant stimulate nerve cells, and in the controlled environment scientists can get feedback from the user on the "flashes of light." That could help them adjust until the "flashes of light" reflect the actual environment enough to be helpful. It's not full vision, but it's an early step toward it.
The next stage, the scientists say, is incorporating an external camera into a device, and creating versions with more electrodes. With 98, a person could be able to see large objects; with 1,024, they could recognize faces and large print.
Woman Regains Partial Sight With Bionic Eye Transplant
August 31, 2012
An Australian woman has partially regained her sight thanks to a prototype bionic eye scientists have developed.
Dianne Ashworth had severe vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, but thanks to a bionic eye transplant in May at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, she was able to see different shapes.
“All of a sudden I could see a little flash … it was amazing,” Ashworth, who is 54 years old, said in a statement. “Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye.”
The bionic eye is only able to give patients mild vision, such as being able to see contrasts and edges like light and dark objects.
Bionic Vision Australia developed the bionic eye, which is equipped with 24 electrodes with a small wire that extends from the back of the eye, to a receptor attached behind the ear.
David Penington, from Bionic Vision Australia, said he believes one day the eye would eventually enable “useful vision.”
“Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to ‘build’ images for Ms Ashworth,” he said in a statement. “The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices.”
The eye will eventually result in black-and-white images, and will allow patients to move independently.
The researchers have already created a prosthetic device that has successfully restored near-normal vision in blind mice.
The surgeon who led the transplant team, Dr. Perry Allen, said the bionic eye implantation is the world’s first. She said the procedure for implanting the eye is simple, and can be taught to surgeons worldwide. “We implanted the device in a position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach.”
“The device electrically stimulates the retina,” Allen told Thuy Ong of Reuters. “Electrical impulses are passed through the device, which then stimulate the retina. Those impulses then pass back to the brain (creating the image).”
“We didn’t want to have a device that was too complex in a surgical approach that was very difficult to learn… What we’re going to be doing is restoring a type of vision which is probably going to be black and white, but what we’re hoping to do for these patients who are severely visually impaired is to give them mobility.”
The World Health Organization says that 39 million people around the world are blind, and 246 million have low vision.
Ashworth is the first of three patients who will be testing out the implant. The other two patients have had the device installed, and are recovering from surgery.
Source: Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
DH and I were talking about this recently. The cochlear implant has been nothing short of miraculous for our son. Even so, he would have been able to lead a relatively normal life if had to rely on signing instead of oral language. The blind have a much harder time. It is about time they had some success with a device like this.
It seems like the auditory nerve would be more accessible through surgery than the optic nerve.