We might be on the brink of creating world’s first bionic eye and thus, restoring sight to the millions of blind people. For the first time ever, surgeons from the University of California Los Angeles have successfully implanted a visual stimulator chip in a 3o-year-old blind women’s brain who can now see coloured flashes, lines and spots.
The next step is to send footage to the chip using a tiny video camera to the brain, which, if successful would be the world’s first bionic eye and can be used to restore sight to millions of blind people. The chip bypasses the eyes and is attached to the visual cortex, the section of the brain which usually receives images from the optic nerve. So this means that the technology has the potential to restore eyesight even for the people who don’t have an eye or have been blinded by cancer.
Doctors have placed the camera in a pair of glasses, and are waiting for the US regulators for approval to connect the system to a camera so that they can start using this on a mass scale.
Dr Nader Pouratian, part of the project said: ‘The moment she saw colour for the first time was a very emotional experience. It touched us all very deeply as human beings. Based on these results, this system has the potential to restore sight to the blind.’
Dr Pouratian inserted an array of tiny electrodes, called the stimulator, into the back the brain of the Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome blind patient in August. The procedure took four hours as the surgeons cut a small hole in the back of her skull and then planted the stimulator along with a small antenna receiver which receives signals sent from a computer.
Now the surgeons are waiting for the approval from the US Food and Drug Administration after which they will try to send the video signals from a system called the Orion I, which involves capturing images using a camera placed on a pair of glasses. The device is inspired by the Argus II, which was similar technology invented by the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital last year.
Professor Paulo Stanga, a consultant ophthalmologist at the University of Manchester, said: ‘There are a significant number of patients who would benefit from this technology, for example, people who have lost an eye on the battlefield or through trauma.’
Dan Pescod, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said: ‘This is a very exciting and potentially life-changing development, though the research is at an early stage.’
Dr Robert Greenberg, chairman of Second Sight, which developed Orion I, said: ‘It is rare that technological development offers such stirring possibilities. By bypassing the optic nerve and directly stimulating the visual cortex, the Orion I has the potential to restore vision to patients blinded due to virtually any reason, including glaucoma, cancer, diabetic retinopathy, or trauma.’
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