Health Technology Update: The Bionic Eye
Written by: Aimee Zellers
On Thursday, February 14th, the Food and Drug Administration approved what is now being called the first bionic eye. The Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System was developed by Second Sight Medical Products and treats a specific type of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa. This is a degenerative genetic disease where cells in the retina deteriorate, thereby making it impossible to visually translate images from light or simply put “see”. Approximately 1 in 4,000 individuals in the US suffers from retinitis pigmentosa. The device consists of a panel of electrodes that are implanted into the eye. Then along with some external equipment such as specialized glasses, a video processing unit, and cable, the implant is able to produce electrical stimulation in the retina to bring about visual perception. In short, this device provides a bypass of the damaged retina cells and connects directly to the optic nerve which allows the brain to “see.”
The bionic eye does not fully restore sight, but it does give users the ability to distinguish between light and dark. Early testing has revealed some positive results. Some participants stated that they could see the boundaries of objects including walls and sidewalk curbs. This ability is particularly important, because it allows individuals to retain some forms of independence, which is very important for quality of life reasons. A number of participants even reported the ability to read large letters and match sock colors. This device is already available in Europe. HealthDay has reported that the cost of the device is approximately 100,000 USD with an additional 16,000 USD needed for the implant surgery. However, in the US, Second Sight as well as healthcare providers believe that health insurance companies will cover a lot of the implant and device costs for patients who have no other treatment options.
In the future, Second Sight is hopeful that this device can and will be approved for the treatment of other forms of blindness such as macular degeneration. Furthermore, Second Sight hopes to create a visual aid device where the electrodes are directly implanted into the brain in order to remedy the vast majority of all types and causes of blindness.
Check out the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System:
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For more information on retinitis pigmentosa: