Are Bionic Eyes The Future?

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The eye is an incredibly complex organ.  When medical or surgical help can no longer restore an individual’s sight and vision is lost, either partially or fully there is very little that can be done.  However, hope is exists in the advanced technology of visual prosthesis.  Otherwise known as the bionic eye, visual prosthesis is an experimental device designed to help restore a person’s vision.  The aim is to restore total vision, however, at these early stages of development only functional vision can be achieved.  

There are many projects around the world focusing on the development of the bionic eye.  There have even been a few cases in the UK where bionic eyes have helped people regain an element of their sight.  In 2009, a 73 year old man who had been blind for 30 years had his sight partially restored at London’s Moorfield’s eye hospital.  He was fitted with a bionic eye called an Argus II.  Surgery was deemed a success, and after 7 months, the man was able to see white lines on the road and arrange his socks.  

There are many projects continuing to develop the bionic eye; the Argus II was made by the Second Sight project.  This project was started by Dr. Robert Greenberg, along with Drs Mark Humayun, Eugene DeJuan, Wentai Liu at the Doheny Eye Institute in California in conjunction with the University of California.  They first developed the technology in the 1990s, and since them have helped over 18 people around the world restore some level of their sight.  They are currently developing Argus III, which will have 240 electrodes (a giant leap from Argus I, which only had 16).

In Germany, a team lead by Eberhart Zrenner has developed a chip that is located behind the retina.  The chip collects light and transforms it into electrical current.  The process simulates the natural process of the photoreceptors in a patient’s eye that have stopped working.  So far, the team have used the chip in 8 patients.  Testing is ongoing.  

Other teams, for example two brothers, Alan and Vincent Chow have developed a solution along the same lines.  They have developed a microchip which contains 3500 photo diodes.  The light is again converted into light.  Experiments are ongoing.  

Regardless of the inventions created and developments, the bionic eye is still not a suitable solution to cure partial or total blindness. In the future it is hoped that as well as functional sight, other less medical issues could be added such as tints or even infra-red and ultraviolet. Although this is pure speculation at this stage, a collaboration with a designer in the future could entirely remove the need for expensive and delicate designer objects like Calvin Klein sunglasses.

Dee Jones