This year will see the introduction of the “Bionic Eye” in U.S. after receiving the nod of approval from the FDA (food and drug administration). The invention (which has already been approved in other countries in Europe) is a creation of a renowned tech company Second Sight. The company is dedicated to manufacturing and introducing to the market, visual prosthetics that can be implanted to correct eye ailments or in helping the blind achieve independence through visual innovations.
The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System is one such prosthetic the company has invented. The system may be the ‘miracle’ many people have been hoping for, to be able see again and to take them out of the world of darkness. For people diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), there is hope of regaining marginal visual abilities again.
The technology has already gone through the initial stages of testing which have been a success. A patient, Barbara Campbell, diagnosed with RP over 25 years ago, was one of the first to volunteer for the surgery. Though she did not regain complete visual functions, the surgery was a success to say the least and she could see patterns of light as well as shapes.
What is retinitis pigmentosa (RP)?
This is a degenerative disease which is inherited. It causes damage to the retina and results in gradual loss of vision caused by deterioration of light-sensitive cells (rods and cones) in the eye.The symptoms include losing night vision, losing of both peripheral and central vision, among others. This condition can eventually lead to total blindness.
The working of Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System
This is the first ever technology in the market, which has shown the ability of correcting blindness when implanted in individuals diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
The system consists of a camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses and a video processor unit (VPU) worn by the patient. The camera captures images which are converted to electric pulses and transferred to electrodes impregnated on the surface of the retina in the eye.
The pulses cause electrical stimulation of the remaining cells of the retina and trigger signals to the brain through the nerves. After some basic training, the patient is able to interpret perceived light patterns of visual images and regain some visual capabilities.
The technique can be used in blind people to help them regain visual functions, as well as in the elderly with vision problems caused by macular degeneration to improve their sight.
It is a portable device and meant to help people with visual problems go about their daily activities with greater ease and independence.
The engineers have worked hard to continually upgrade the device for better performance. One notable improvement that the engineers are working on is to increase the number of electrodes and increasing the pixels. Also the color vision is said to be improved from the current capability of black and white, with colors like yellow, orange and blue already being experimented.
One of the limitation, however is that the technology only works for people with retinitis pigmentosa and even for those people, it only acts as a visual aid and not a complete cure for blindness.
More than 200,000 people in the U.S. and Europe and many more in the world could be beneficiaries of this innovation when the Bionic Eye debuts this year. The technology will bring light to the lives of many. For those whose condition may not be improve with this technology, they need not lose hope. The technological innovations of tomorrow holds great potential for every individual on this planet.