Bionic eye

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A bionic eye is a form of neural prosthesis (artificial extensions of body) intended to partially restore lost vision or amplify existing vision. The process uses a camera and video processor mounted on sunglasses to send captured images wirelessly to a tiny receiver on the outside of the eye.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Bionic eye is designed to help people who have been made blind through retinitis pigmentosa, a group of inherited eye diseases that cause degeneration of the retina. The disease progresses over a number of years, normally after people have been diagnosed when they are children.
  • The first clinical test of a bionic eye is likely to take place within two years and commercialisation within five.

All about bionic eye

Bionic eye is being developed by scientists in many developed countries like the USA and the UK to allow blind people to see again. It comprises a computer chip that is positioned in the back of the individual's eye. It is then linked up to a mini video camera built into glasses that they wear.

Images captured by the camera are beamed to the chip, which translates them into impulses that the brain can interpret.

Causes and benefits

Retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration are the two major causes leading to blindness. Retinitis pigmentosa tends to be hereditary and may strike at an early age, while macular degeneration mostly affects the elderly. Together, these diseases afflict millions of Americans; both occur gradually and can result in total blindness.

Patients with macular degeneration, which affects 500,000 people in the UK, are likely to benefit most from this development. Macular degeneration occurs when there is damage to the macula, which is in the central part of the retina where light is focussed and changed into nerve signals in the middle of the brain.

The implant bypasses the diseased cells in the retina and stimulates the remaining viable cells.

Three elements

There are three elements to the bionic eye.

  • A miniature camera worn in a pair of dark glasses, which transmits images to a radio receiver implanted near the patient’s eye.
  • This then sends a signal on to a tiny silicon and platinum chip, about 4mm square, that sits on the retina.
  • The chip’s electrodes stimulate the ganglion cells that transmit visual information to the optic nerve and onwards to the brain, which can then construct a visual image.

Long way to go

Though this is a revolutionary technology which has the potential to change people's lives, there is still a long way to go. The technology cannot restore sight to patients who are blind because of severe optic nerve damage, such as that caused by glaucoma, or because of a stroke.

References:

  • Bionic eye gives blind man sight
  • Bionic eye will let the blind see
  • Bionic eye to undergo clinical tests by 2011