Bionic Eye Receives Approval for Trials in UK 0

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Kristopher Sturgis

A life-altering bionic eye device that could partially restore eyesight for patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa has received NHS approval in the UK.

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK announced last week funding for a new trial that will enable 10 patients who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa (RP) to undergo surgery to implant a new bionic eye device known as the Argus II Bionic Eye Implant. The National Eye Institute estimates that one in 4000 people suffer from RP around the world, and the new device could be the first of its kind to restore sight to patients who have been left completely blind.

The implant works in tandem with a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses that can be comfortably worn by the patient. The camera works to capture images and convert them into wireless signals that can be sent to the retina via electrodes. These electrodes work to stimulate the remaining retinal cells in the patient’s eye, which can then transmit information to the brain to help restore some level of sight to the patient.

Bionic eye technologies have been improving lately as medtech agencies look to implantable devices to help bridge the gap for patients who face partial or complete blindness. French medtech firm Pixium announced the first successful implantation of its bionic vision system last November—a project also aimed at treating patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. The trial proved to be a success as the implant enabled a 73-year-old patient to perceive light for the first time.

As for this new trial for the Argus II, the NHS has selected five patients from Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and five patients from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London to receive the implant. Following the surgeries, each patient will be closely monitored for a year to observe the impact of the device, and measure how much the bionic eye has improved the quality of life for the patients.

Each patient selected for the trial suffers from complete blindness, and can only sense the difference between daylight and darkness. The new system has been designed to help the brain decode flashes of light so that patients can begin to detect movement. Currently, there are no alternative treatment options for patients suffering from RP, as gene and stem cell treatments have attempted to restore sight to patients without much success. This new study aims to make the bionic eye implant the only real treatment option that can restore a level of vision to patients who are completely blind.

The NHS estimates that nearly 16,000 people suffer from RP in the UK, with varying degrees of vision deterioration. About 10 percent can no longer see the fingers on their own hand, and the NHS estimates that between 160 and 320 patients could be eligible for this bionic eye operation. Researchers also noted that the technology could be used to treat other conditions such as age-related macular degeneration — the most common cause of blindness or severe vision loss.

The cost for the bionic eye implant treatment is just £150,000 and includes the surgical procedure, follow-up observations, equipment, and rehabilitation. Once the study is completed at the end of 2017, the device will be evaluated on its performance, and will enable the NHS to consider implanting the device in a larger group of patients, as well as consider the technology for the treatment of other conditions that result in retinal degeneration. 

Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed.