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24 January 2022

Bionic implant enables UK patient to pick up signals in blind eye

A patient has been able to detect signals in her blind left eye thanks to a revolutionary new implant.

She became the first UK patient to receive this new device as part of a Europe-wide clinical trial.

The news offers hope of partially restored vision for people with geographic atrophy (GA), the most common form of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

An elderly woman wearing glasses linking to a bionic implant receives attention from a woman wearing a surgical mask

The procedure involves inserting a 2mm wide microchip under the centre of a patient’s retina by surgically creating a trapdoor into which the chip is posted. The patient then uses special glasses, containing a video camera that is connected to a small computer attached to their waistband.

The chip captures the visual scene projected by the glasses and transmits this to the computer. Artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms process this information and instruct the glasses to focus on what it perceives to be the main object in the image. The glasses project this image as an infra-red beam through the eye to the chip, which converts this into an electrical signal. This signal passes through the retina cells and optical cells into the brain, where it is interpreted as if it were natural vision.

A close up

The patient, an 88-year-old woman who received the implant at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Losing the sight in my left eye through dry AMD has stopped me from doing the things I love, like gardening, playing indoor bowls and painting with watercolours. I am thrilled to be the first to have this implant, excited at the prospect of enjoying my hobbies again and I truly hope that many others will benefit from this too.”

Mahi Muqit, Consultant Vitreoretinal Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, added: “This groundbreaking device offers the hope of restoration of sight to people suffering vision loss due to dry AMD. The success of this operation, and the evidence gathered through this clinical study, will provide the evidence to determine the true potential of this treatment.”

While these new technologies are specifically designed for those with AMD, people with other eye diseases including glaucoma can certainly take hope from the advancements.