In clinical trial, bionic eye restores sight to the blind
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Photo credit: PR, Bionics Institute

Three subjects who were all blind for over 20 years can now see large objects and navigate a room

Scientists at the Bionics Institute in Melbourne, Australia have restored rudimentary vision to three subjects who have all been blind for over 20 years.

They did this by implanting a bionic eye in their skulls. The “eye” is in fact a device similar to a cochlear implant. It sits behind the retina and directly stimulates the optic nerve through 24 electrodes.

Big picture only – for now

“All three people had working optic nerves which is essential to the device’s capability,” Robert Hilkes, PR Manager for the Bionics Institute, told Geektime.

The combined stimulation of the different electrodes forms a rudimentary image in the brain. While it doesn’t restore complete vision, it has allowed the patients to observe large objects and navigate.

The Bionics Institute designed, safety tested and manufactured the device as well as the implantation tools used by the surgeons. The device is unrelated to another bionic eye, also developed by Australian scientists, at Monash University in Melbourne.

An eye to the future

The bionic eyes were manufactured by hand.

The Bionic Institute’s primary focus is on the development of experimental implantable brain devices for hearing, vision and deep brain stimulation (DBS) relating to movement disorders, epilepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

To that end, the Institute hopes to purchase a 3D printer in the near future “that will build components using biocompatible materials.  This will allow us to move from making our prototypes fully by hand to using 3D printed components.”

“By doing the printing ourselves we make the process very quick and efficient.  We can print something for our clinicians to look at within hours,” Hilkes said.

As for the bionic eye, “we have already successfully trialled it with 3 patients,” Hilkes told Geektime, “and we are now upgrading to  a device with more electrodes for another trial.”

 

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Simona Weinglass

About Simona Weinglass


I’m an old-school journalist who recently decided to pivot into high-tech. I work in high-tech marketing as well as print and broadcast media covering politics, business culture and everything in between.

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