Becoming blind is probably one of the most devastating things when it comes to the quality of life of an individual. In fact, if people could see and then slowly became visually impaired, it can be hell on earth for some. However, scientists have come up with a surgery known as an electronic eye implant that now gives hope to the blind. The initial experiments show promising signs, and many blind patients have already regained some sight after the surgery.
Investors in the technology
It was Suaning and Lovell in 2009 that made electronic eye implants possible. They established Bionic Vision Australia that accumulated a fund of $42 million to continue this research. In 2012, they came up with their first electronic eye prototype and tested it on three patients who were already experiencing retinitis pigmentosa. This arrangement had 24 electrode arrays that allowed the patients to see flashes and spots of light known as phosphenes.
The phosphenes had algorithms and special cameras that helped the people to sense the objects around them. The results from this experiment were so satisfying that Suaning and Lovell took it to the next level. They formed a team that included some of the most elite surgical experts and started their pre-clinical work in 2015. By the end of that year, they came up with their first mature bionic eye system. This system used neural stimulation technology. Basically, the vision that this technology offered was far better than their initial experiment in 2012.
Hope for the blind
As someone who knows he/she is not likely to see the light of day ever again, the fear of going blind can be mentally and physically disabling. Retinitis pigmentosa is a disease that slowly deteriorates the retinal condition over time, leading to eventual permanent blindness. In fact, almost 1.5 million people in the world have retinitis pigmentosa. Thanks to retinal implants or electronic eye implants, there is still hope to restore some of their eyesight.
So, how does an electronic eye implant change the vision status of the blind? Can they see everything as clearly as before? Well, not exactly. Retinal implants involve using a 3 x 3 mm microchip containing 1500 electrodes. The surgery experts will implant this chip under the patient’s retina which helps to create artificial vision.
The chip runs on electricity to function correctly. It pulls power from the transmitter coils placed under the patient’s skin. This helps the chip to absorb light from the outside that enters the eye. Even if a person becomes visually impaired, they still have intact nerves inside their retina. The light coming through the chip transforms the electrical energy and stimulates the intact nerves.
The constant stimulation from the chip transmits to the brain via the optic nerves. This continuous stimulation charges up the disabled optic nerves and helps the person to regain their sight. Most people who underwent an electronic eye implant can now read letters without anyone’s help, decipher various objects like telephones, read signs on doors and also recognize faces. For someone who couldn’t see at all to at least recognizing faces and objects, this transformation is a dream come true. And, the credit goes to Suaning and Lovell for their bionic eye invention.