Second Sight's Argus II bionic eye has already helped hundreds of patients around the globe with a rare disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) to see again. And yes, that includes several Americans who've gotten the system after it was approved by the FDA in 2013. Now, doctors at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital have proven that it also works on another kind of degenerative eye disease: age-related macular degeneration (AMD). They've recently attached an implant onto the retina of Ray Flynn, an 80-year-old retiree who had lost his central vision due to the condition. Unlike retinitis pigmentosa, which could occur in anyone regardless of age, macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of blindness in adults 30-years-old and above. Also, AMD takes away a person's central vision, while those with RP usually lose their peripheral sight instead.
That implant, by the way, is but one part of the Argus II system. It works in conjunction with a tiny eyeglass-mounted camera that captures the surroundings. The footage the cam takes is converted into signals, which are wirelessly transmitted to the implant and stimulate a person's remaining retinal cells. That causes the cells to send images to the brain. The doctor's didn't know if the system would work, as it had only been tested on RP patients up until that point. Thankfully, everything went well.
While the technology can't bring back Flynn's original high-def vision, he can now at least discern objects in front of him. Head doctor Paulo Stanga told the BBC that Flynn has been "seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively" ever since the implant was switched on back on July 1st. His brain will be even better at detecting and interpreting shapes and patterns in time, whereas prior to the operation, he couldn't even see anything in front of him. "Before when I was looking at a plant in the garden it was like a honeycomb in the center of my eye," he told The Telegraph. "That has now disappeared. I can now walk round the garden and see things."
The Manchester Royal Eye team will outfit four more AMD patients with the system as part of its clinical trial. Sure, an even better bionic eye might emerge someday, but we'll bet those other four testers would prefer seeing outlines and shapes right now than nothing at all.
[Image credit: Second Sight]