Researchers have developed a microchip that enables a wide view bionic eye and could restore some sense of vision to people affected by degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa.
Preparations are now underway for the first set of patient tests. The bionic eye consists of a camera, attached to a pair of glasses, which captures images and sends them to a body worn processing unit. A wireless transmitter feeds the data and power from this unit to a microchip in the retinal implant. The microchip decodes this information and drives the electrical stimulation in the retina. These signals are then passed along the optic nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as vision. According to Professor Gregg Suaning from the University of New South Wales and head of the wide-view device development team for Bionic Vision Australia, the new chip has brought retinal implant much closer to reality. "At only 5mm2, the device is tiny, but represents a significant advance in nerve stimulation technology," said Prof Suaning. "It has 98 precisely controlled stimulation channels and numerous features that allow for the delivery of electrical stimulation that can restore some sense of vision." The project is designed to deliver improved impedance and navigation ability for the visually impaired. Prof Anthony Burkitt, director of Bionic Vision Australia said that the microchip is at the heart of the retinal implant, which stimulates the retinal cells to elicit vision. "It is an important component in the development of our first bionic vision system that may provide real, functional benefits for patients and make our technology competitive internationally," he noted. According to Prof Burkitt, preliminary laboratory tests of the microchip are yielding promising results. The system has progressed through a series of preclinical studies to test the safety and efficacy of the technology and a safe surgical technique has been developed for implantation. Clinicians are now screening people with retinitis pigmentosa to develop a selection protocol for the first group of patients who will participate in tests of the device. Researchers will continue working with patients in the lead up to the first implant of the full system, due by 2013.