Australia’s First Bionic Eye Implant Enables Blinds to Experience Some Vision

Australia’s First Bionic Eye Implant Enables Blinds to Experience Some Vision

Australian scientists told Thursday they had effectively operated the “world first” bionic eye implant prototype, identifying it as a most important revolution for the visually impaired.

Bionic Vision Australia (BVA), a government-funded science consortium, stated it had surgically mounted an “early prototype” robotic eye in a woman with hereditary sight loss induced by degenerative retinitis pigmentosa.

Named as a “pre-bionic eye”, the small apparatus is fixed to Dianne Ashworth’s retina and holds in 24 electrodes which send electrical impulses to stimulate her eye’s nerve cells.

Researchers turned on the apparatus in their laboratory last month after Ashworth had been entirely cured from surgical operation and she told it was an unbelievable experience.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash — it was amazing,” she told in a statement.

“Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye.”
Penny Allen, the surgeon who performed the bionic eye implant, described it as a “world first”.

Ashworth’s apparatus only functions once it is connected within the lab and BVA Chairman David Penington told it would be used to research how images were “built” by the brain and eye.

Feedback from the apparatus will be fed into a “vision processor” granting doctors to find out precisely what Ashworth sees when her retina is subjected to several levels of stimulation.

Rob Shepherd, director of the Bionics Institute which was also involved in the innovation explained, “The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information.”

The team is running towards a “wide-view” 98-electrode apparatus that will allow users with the capability to recognize full-size objects counting buildings and cars, and a “high-acuity” 1,024-electrode apparatus.

Patients with the high-acuity apparatus are anticipated to be capable to distinguish faces and read full-size print, and BVA told it would be appropriate for people with retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.

Penington stated the initial outcomes from Ashworth had “fulfilled our best expectations, giving us confidence that with further development we can achieve useful vision”.

“The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices,” he stated.

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Australians implant ‘world first’ bionic eye