A new ray of hope for all blind people! Recently, a team of researchers based out at Monash University (Melbourne) has claimed the development of first bionic eye device which may help restore vision in blind people through brain implant.
The researchers said that the device was under development for almost a decade and may be available in a custom-designed headgear with a camera and wireless transmitter. Take a look at the details.
What Is Bionic Eye?
Bionic eye or bionic eye implants or visual prosthesis is an electronic device that provides a sense of eyesight to a visually impaired (partially or completely blind) person. The device is similar to cochlear implants that provide a sense of sound to people who are partially deaf or have problems related to hearing.
According to the World Health Organisation, around 2.2 billion people in the world of all ages have vision impairment issues. Unlike hearing implants, there are only a few suitable devices for visual impairment available that can help correct a vision completely. However, with the successful transplantation of the first bionic eye, a new hope arised for partial or total visually impaired people.
How Do Healthy Eyes Work?
Before understanding the functionality of the bionic eye, let's understand first how healthy eyes work. Anything we see is the reflection of light from the objects to our retina. The retina has special photoreceptor cells called rods and cones that turn these photo signals into electrical signals and send them to the brain through the optic nerve.
The brain then decodes these signals into images. In short, the brain and the eyes work together to help a person see. Other parts of the eye like cornea allow the light to enter while the pupil controls the amount of light entering through the cornea.
Partial blind or complete blind people face problems mainly due to the damage to optic nerves or retina. Retinal damage can disrupt the proper visual signal to be sent to the brain while damage to the optic nerve can prevent visual information from being decoded in the brain. Retinal eye damage due to shock, trauma or genetic issues can be the cause of partial vision loss which optic nerve damage due to eye diseases like glaucoma can be permanent.
How Does Bionic Eye Work?
The Bionic eye developed by Australian scientists works by bypassing damaged optic nerves and sending visual signals from the retina to the brain. It comes with custom-designed glasses with wireless transmitter and camera installed.
The glasses are installed with a tiny camera that takes images and sends visual information to the primary visual cortex, a part of the brain specialises in processing visual information. The electrodes are implanted in the brain that decodes visual signals and helps a person see. The device can help a blind person recognise images through around 172 spots.
The bionic eye prototype was first tested in 2012 on three patients who had severe vision loss (with only light perception vision remaining). The size of the prototype was around 8mm x 16mm and comprises of 24 electrodes that connect suprachoroidal space behind the retina to behind the ear. It is embedded with silicon sheet and platinum electrodes. The second trial was conducted in 2016 with 44 electrodes.
Earlier, the FDA has approved a retinal prosthesis named Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System. This was mainly to correct vision caused due to severe retinal damage such as retinitis pigmentosa. The one developed recently by Australian scientists is helpful in visual correction related to optic nerve damage, which is regarded as severe than retinal damage.
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Limitations Of Bionic Eye
- According to researchers, bionic eye comes with minimal side effects considering its implantation in the brain.
- There are around 1.7 million optic nerves in the eyes that help with natural eyesight. Therefore, the device may help see only up to certain levels considering the number of electrodes used or according to the severity of the impairment.
- It may not help perceive colours.
- The blind person may not be able to see high-quality images, but only flashes of light from a person or objects.
- The cost of the device and implantation may be very high.
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As the new bionic eye developed by Monash Vision Group focuses on improving visual sight related to optic nerve damage, in the near future it may help treat neurological issues such as paralysis which are still untreatable. More clinical trials are needed to be conducted for its mass production to help blind people get a new life.