Bionic eyes will allow the blind to see

Prima system, a next-generation bionic vision technology designed by HealthTech to enable vision for people who are blind. It was a photovoltaic substitute for photoreceptors allowing the use of a central prosthesis and natural peripheral vision for people with dry age-related atrophic macular degeneration.

Now, new vision restoration technology in progress aims to design a bionic eye good enough for human trials. Called Phoenix99 Bionic Eye, it is an implantable system designed to restore a form of vision to patients living with severe visual impairment and blindness caused by degenerative diseases.

The two main components of the device that need to be implanted consist of a pacemaker attached to the eye and a communication module positioned under the skin behind the ear. Trials on sheep have shown that the body accepts both of these and additionally heals around them. The team is now applying for ethical approval to perform clinical trials on human patients.

The study was published in Biomaterials.

In certain retinal diseases, the cells responsible for this crucial conversion degenerate, resulting in visual impairment. The system bypasses these faulty cells by directly stimulating the remaining cells, effectively tricking the brain into believing that light has been detected.

Obtain reliable data on visual improvements in animals is a challenge, as they are not able to tell if or when their vision is improving. The objective of these experiments was to validate the biocompatibility of Phoenix99 and to improve the surgical process.

Once the trials are in place, because the Phoenix99 resides behind the retina, it could allow residual vision to remain in place, while taking in sensory information for areas that have deteriorated. Additionally, the implant has the potential to provide new types of vision outside of the normal spectrum using, for example, infrared.

According to at WHO, approximately 285 million people worldwide suffer from visual impairment, of which 39 million are totally blind. With new advancements in 3D printing technologies and bionic vision systems, wait times are likely to be significantly reduced while the quality of life for patients is greatly improved.

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