Major Breakthrough in eye research! The world’s first ever dry Age Related Macular Degeneration patient received Second Sight Medical Products’ ‘bionic eye’. Initial tests on the 80-year-old individual with no central vision showed that the treatment allowed him to see the outline of people again.

80-year-old Ray Flynn, from Audenshaw in Manchester, is one of the 20 million patients suffering from dry Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). In the western world, the untreatable condition is the leading cause of sight loss. Whilst Mr. Flynn is able to see in the periphery of his vision field, his central eyesight is totally lost. The first tests after surgery, during which doctors gave Mr. Flynn a bionic eye, indicated that the patient has perception in his central vision for the first time again in many years. With the Argus II system switched on, he is able to make out the outline of people and objects even with his eyes closed – thus proving that he is not using any of his remaining natural vision to identify the shapes and outlines.

bionic eye

Ray Flynn in initial testings. Source: http://www.cmft.nhs.uk

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How does the technology work exactly?

Patients using Argus II carry a small video camera housed in the patient’s glasses, that constantly captures images.  These are then converted into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to electrodes on the surface of the retina. These pulses stimulate the retina’s remaining cells so that the brain receives the corresponding perception of patterns of light. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns to regain some visual function.

Mr Flynn is the first AMD patient to be implanted with Argus II. The bionic eye is already used to treat the rare disease Retinitis Pigmentosa. Since 2011, the retinal prothese has been approved in Europe. In 2013, it gained FDA approval. In 89 percent of the patients the improved visual function maintained out to three years.

second sight

Stimulation of the retina. Source: www.secondsight.com

“Of course, this is only the beginning”, states President and CEO of Second Sight. The 1998 founded company is currently developing another visual prothesis, Orion I, that is designed to offer sight for people living with blindness from nearly all causes.

On the long run, Mr Flynn’s vision is expected to continue to improve. For the moment, Argus II offers a step out of darkness in a world of shapes and outlines. But the groundbreaking technology has a big potential to open doors to give patients a more complexe vision back.

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