The world’s first bionic eye is currently go through testing. The revolutionary device has the potential to restore sight to millions of people. Find out everything you need to know about the bionic eye today.
What is A Bionic Eye?
The world’s first bionic eye is currently being tested by doctors at UCLA. During one recent test, a 30 year old woman saw colored flashes, lines, and spots – despite the fact that she has been blind for seven years.
The device involves inserting a stimulator chip into the brain and then sending signals from a computer. That’s the early phase. The next phase is to send footage from a tiny video camera to stimulate the eye. If these further tests work, then the device could be available to the general public, restoring sight for people around the world.
How Does A Bionic Eye Work?
The bionic eye is currently in the early phases of development. Here’s how the device will work if testing goes as planned:
Step 1) A tiny video camera is placed in the bridge of the glasses. This video camera captures moving images and sends them, over wire, to a connected computer.
Step 2) The computer (carried in your pocket) then transforms these visual images into electrical signals, sending them back to an antenna on the glasses.
Step 3) Signals are then transferred wirelessly to a receiver implanted in the back of the patient’s skull.
Step 4) The signals are sent on to electrodes which are placed directly on the surface of the brain.
Step 5) The electrodes stimulate the neural cells in the visual cortex, allowing the patient to see the visual images as normal.
All of these steps happen in milliseconds, allowing the patient to have a real-time view of the world. If the device succeeds, then it has the potential to restore sight even to those who have lost both their eyes.
The Latest Tests
Tests are currently underway on one patient at UCLA. For the past six weeks, that patient has consistently seen the “exact signals” scientists sent to her visual cortex, which is the part of the brain that usually receives images from the eyes and your optic nerve.
That patient received a transmitter implant in late August. She has been blind for the past seven years due to a rare condition called Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome, which attacks the pigment in the eyes. Surgeons at UCLA implanted the transmitter during a four hour procedure, cutting a small hole in the back of the skull and laying the stimulator on the surface of her brain.
The device isn’t quite at the advanced level that we mentioned above. Right now, researchers are waiting for approval from the US FDA to continue tests using a pair of glasses with a video camera attached. That device is called the Orion 1, and it involves using a camera, transmitter, receiver, and stimulator on the brain to allow someone to see again.
All of this research is based on the success of a previous test that took place in 2015 at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. During those tests, researchers used a similar camera to send images to an implant at the back of the eye.
Why This Is A Bionic Eye Important?
The main limitation with the initial study in Manchester was that it required patients to have working retinal cells. Instead of sending data directly to the brain, data was sent to the retinal cells.
That meant a wide range of people would not be able to be treated with the device – including anyone without working retinal cells.
This latest technology bypasses the retinal cells and goes straight to the brain. You don’t need working eyes or working retinal cells – you just need a working brain.
That’s important for people who have lost their eyes through physical trauma – like injuries on the battlefield. Ultimately, it allows patients who have lost their eyes for “virtually any reason” to see again, including those with glaucoma, cancer, diabetic retinopathy, or trauma.
The importance of this “bionic eye” is best summed up by Dan Pescod, a member of the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK, who says, “This is a very exciting and potentially life-changing development, though the research is at an early stage.”
We’ll keep you updated on the world’s first bionic eye as this exciting research continues to move forward.
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