Researchers at the University of Sydney and at the University of New South Wales have developed a bionic eye which has proved sustainable for long-term use, meaning it could be only a matter of time before we start seeing it used by humans.
The Phoenix Bionic Eye (gosh, that’s a cool name) restores vision from partial blindness caused by degenerative diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Using sheep to identify how the body might respond to such an enhancement, the researchers are now confident in human trials. The results allowed for further refinement of the surgical procedure, which, of course, would be important to any human.
It’s an incredibly cool concept — one that could restore the vision of millions of Australians and countless people around the world. It’s also not the first we’ve heard of a bionic eye implant in Australia, but it is considerably far along in development.
So how does it work?
Well the bionic eye implant is made up of two components — a communication module, which is inserted under the skin behind the ear, and a stimulating module, which is attached to the eye.
This bionic eye implant stimulates the retina in response to visual light impulses, which are sourced from a small camera that attaches to a pair of glasses. The visual impulses picked up by the camera are sent through to the module placed behind the ear, which decodes the light into electrical impulses and then sends them through to the eye module.
In a healthy eye, the light is turned into electrical impulses, which are sent to the brain, but the Phoenix Bionic Eye resolves that midway issue when there are no electrical messages being triggered.
In countering retinal diseases, the eye module stimulates the healthy cells remaining in the retina and ignores the damaged cells, encouraging the eye to function as normal.
“We found the device has a very low impact on the neurons required to ‘trick’ the brain,” says Samuel Eggenberger, a biomedical engineer. “There were no unexpected reactions from the tissue around the device and we expect it could safely remain in place for many years.
“We hope that through this technology, people living with profound vision loss from degenerative retinal disorders may be able to regain a useful sense of vision.”
Eggenberger and his team will now apply for ethical approval to perform trials on human patients. Advanced stimulation techniques will continue to be developed. This Australian bionic eye implant could well be seen widely in the future of bionics.
Let’s hope that technology like this puts blindness in the past.