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Vision Technology: The FDA Approves The First Bionic Eye

February 19, 2013

The FDA recently “okayed” use of the first ever bionic eye to treat blindness.

Often times, when we hear terms like “robotic” or “bionic” when it comes to medical technology, we think back to the sci-fi shows we used to watch as kids. Amazing, state-of-the-art devices and creations that may one day be used to improve life in the far off future. However, never did we think that some of these mind blowing devices would actually be invented and ready to use in our own lifetime!

On February 14th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of a potentially life-changing bionic eye which can help to improve sight in patients who are blind or have severe vision loss. This device combines a small video camera and a computer on a pair of eyeglasses, along with an artificial retina that is implanted inside of the eye, to wirelessly transmit images from the implant into the artificial retina.

This process will help to induce vision in individuals who are affected with retinitis pigmentosa―a disorder which damages and kills the cells in the retina that process light. This disease, which often is genetic, can cause vision to become steadily more blurry until patients are unable to see at all. Nearly 100,000 patients in the United States currently have this condition.

For those patients, along with many other patients who suffer from particular cases of blindness, this bionic eye is a chance to improve vision and their ability to perceive shapes and movement.

“This is a game changer in sight-affecting diseases, that represents a huge step forward for the field and for these patients who were without any available treatment options until now,” said Second Sight Chief Executive Robert Greenberg. Second Sight, the company behind this technological innovation, focuses on developing, manufacturing and marketing implantable visual prosthetics, such as this bionic eye (officially named Argus II).

The advances technology behind this amazing invention aids patients through a four step process:

  1. Video cameras are mounted onto a patient’s glasses in order to capture visual information in the form of light.
  2. The data that is captured is then wirelessly transmitted to the implant in order to trigger electrodes in the chip.
  3. The electrodes then stimulate pixels of light on the retina.
  4. Lastly, the information is sent to the brain and is processed normally as an image.

So, just how much will Argus II be able to help patients who currently have no vision? Results from the FDA’s clinical study show that most participants were able to perform basic activities better with the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System than without it. For example, some of the activities tested included locating and touching a square on a white field; recognizing large letters, words, or sentences; detecting street curbs; walking on a sidewalk without stepping off; and matching black, grey and white socks.

“The fact that many patients can use the Argus implant in their activities of daily living such as recognizing large letters, locating the position of objects, and more, has been beyond our wildest dreams, yet the promise to the patients is real and we expect it only to improve over time,” said Mark Humayun, a doctor and medical professor at the University of Southern California who was involved with developing the device.

What do you think of this state-of-the-art medical vision invention? Did you ever expect the bionic eye to be a part of your future? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


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