Scientists at Bionic Vision Australia have successfully implanted the world’s first early prototype bionic eye in Dianne Ashworth, who had profound sight loss caused by an inherited retina-damaging disease. Researchers believe that they can develop a vision processor, creating images with flashes of flight, after Ashworth claimed to have seen a little flash and different shapes in front of her eyes, throughout several stimulations. We asked our Zintro experts, whether this would be a major breakthrough for the visually impaired.
T. Scott Rowe, an expert in optical and medical device engineering, was very optimistic about the technological advances. “It was great to see the success that Bionic Vision Australia has had with this 1st in human implant. This follows closely with the successes Second Sight Medical has had in Europe, having gained a CE mark for the Argus system, and the German group Retina Implant AG now into their second human clinical trial for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa (RP),” he points out. Even though Rowe thinks that we have a long way from replicating normal human vision, he still believes that it is possible to implement such a technology with the current resources. “With the advancement in molecular genetics and tissue regeneration, the ability to repair or replace diseased or damaged tissue within the eye may not be as far away as one might think. The technologies needed for doing extremely fine ophthalmic microsurgery are now well in place and improving rapidly so that when the tissue engineering part is ready, the surgical and medical infrastructures will be available as well,” he explains.
Plastic medical device expert, Mark Bonifacio, sees huge potential in this new technology. “This is really just the tip of the iceberg. With new materials, miniaturization, micro and nano scale technologies along with advanced electronics (wireless, and other) platforms, these next two decades are going see advancements that today seem impossible,” he notes. “Other type of robotic functions and neurostimulation devices will provide cures and assistance to many patients that suffer from body function loss and or loss of senses.”
Marc Hollingworth, sales and marketing leader in ophthalmology, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, believes that this is an exciting breakthrough in the area of ophthalmology. “The ability to treat conditions previously associated with blindness via neuro-stimulus has been investigated for many years. There are numerous diseases and conditions where the eye may have had permanent damage, however the brain’s receptors are still functioning well,” he points out.
Lawrence Chapoy, an expert in ophthalmology and polymers, on the other hand, disagrees. “This has been an area of active research for over ten years by a number of groups, some from very prestigious institutions. It is presumptuous to say they are first. First to do what? I believe such devices have been implanted before,” he says. Chapoy believes that there needs to be more research in this field before making any conclusions. “To evaluate the current contribution, one would have to evaluate the results achieved by perhaps 5-10 teams and compare. Obviously being able to do this at a given level would be an important step for mankind but would also generate a lot of money. We have to be careful not to make outrageous claims to cheerlead for investor money, while not disclosing the results,” he notes.
By Idil Kan
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