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Bionic eye tech aims to help blind people see


Existing bionic eye systems have a chip fitted to a person's retina, which connects wirelessly to a camera fitted to glasses.

Once upon a time there were some unusual Australian sheep, with exceptionally sharp eyesight.

The small flock spent three months last year with bionic, artificial eyes, surgically implanted behind their retinas.

These sheep were part of a medical trial that aims to ultimately help people with some types of blindness to be able to see.

The specific aim of the sheep test was to see if the device in question, the Phoenix 99, caused any adverse physical reactions - the bionic eye was said to have been well tolerated by the animals. As a result, an application has now been made to start testing in human patients.

The project is being carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales.

The Phoenix 99 is wirelessly linked to a small camera attached to a pair of glasses, it works by stimulating a user's retina. The retina is the layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye that convert light into electrical messages, sent to the brain via the optic nerve, and processed into what we see.

The Phoenix 99 device is able to bypass faulty retina cells, and 'trigger' those that are still able to work.

"There were no unexpected reactions from the tissue around the device, and we expect it could remain in place for many years," says Samuel Eggenberger, a biomedical engineer at the the University of Sydney's School of Biomedical Engineering.

At least 2.2 billion people around the world suffer from some form of impaired vision, ranging from a mild level to total blindness, according to the World Health Organisation. The WHO says the financial impact of this, in terms of loss of productivity, is more than $25bn (£19bn) per year for the global economy.

The use of bionic eye systems to help treat blindness is an industry still very much in its infancy, but with technological developments advancing quickly, one report expects the sector to be worth $426m by 2028.

"Advancements in technology have been redefining ophthalmology," says Dr Diane Hilal-Campo, a New Jersey-based ophthalmologist. "Innovations have not only made diagnosis easier and more precise, but have transformed patient care for the better."

As an example, she points to a bionic eye that has already been fitted to more than 350 people around the world - Argus II from US firm, Second Sight.

Source: BBC NEWS