Bionic eye implant world first

  • 21 July 2015
  • From the section Health
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Media captionFergus Walsh meets Ray Flynn and the team behind his treatment

Surgeons in Manchester have performed the first bionic eye implant in a patient with the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world.

Ray Flynn, 80, has dry age-related macular degeneration which has led to the total loss of his central vision.

He is using a retinal implant which converts video images from a miniature video camera worn on his glasses.

He can now make out the direction of white lines on a computer screen using the retinal implant.

Mr Flynn said he was "delighted" with the implant and hoped in time it would improve his vision sufficiently to help him with day-to-day tasks like gardening and shopping.

Weed or flower?

The Argus II implant, manufactured by the US firm Second Sight, has previously been used to restore some vision to patients who are blind as a result of a rare condition known as retinitis pigmentosa.

The operation, at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, is the first time it has been implanted in a patient with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) which affects at least half a million people in the UK to some extent.

I met Ray Flynn last month, on the morning of his surgery and he explained that although his retained his peripheral vision, his central sight had disappeared.

He said: "I'm unable to put the numbers in for my card when paying in a shop or at the bank, and although I was a keen gardener, I can't tell the weeds from the flowers anymore."

Image caption Ray Flynn's central vision has been lost due to age-related macular degeneration

Mr Flynn said he had to sit very close to the television to see anything.

He had given up going to see Manchester United play football as he cannot make out what is happening.

The operation took four hours and was led by Paulo Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist and vitreo-retinal surgeon at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and professor of ophthalmology and retinal regeneration at the University of Manchester.

He said: "Mr Flynn's progress is truly remarkable, he is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively.

"I think this could be the beginning of a new era for patients with sight loss."

How it works

The bionic eye implant receives its visual information from a miniature camera mounted on glasses worn by the patient.

The images are converted into electrical pulses and transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes attached to the retina.

The electrodes stimulate the remaining retina's remaining cells which send the information to the brain.

In a test, two weeks after surgery, Mr Flynn was able to detect the pattern of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines on a computer screen using the implant.

He kept his eyes closed during the test so that the medical team could be sure that the visual information was coming via the camera on his glasses and the implant.

Mr Flynn said: "It was wonderful to be able to see the bars on the screen with my eyes closed."

The implant cannot provide any highly detailed vision - but previous studies have shown it can help patients to detect distinct patterns such as door frames and shapes.

Prof Stanga said that in time, Mr Flynn should learn how to interpret the images from the implant more effectively.

Dry AMD

  • There are two forms of age-related macular degeneration - dry and wet.
  • The dry form affects 85% of AMD patients and causes gradual loss of central vision, but does not affect peripheral vision.
  • The Macular Society estimates that 44,000 people a year in the UK develop dry AMD.

Four more patients with dry AMD will receive the implant at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, as part of a clinical trial.

Prof Stanga said: "We hope these patients will develop some central visual function which they can work in alongside and complement their peripheral vision."

We are very excited by this trial and hope that this technology might help people, including children with other forms of sight loss."

The Argus II costs about £150,000, including treatment costs, although all the patients on the trial will be treated free of charge.

Gregoire Cosendai of Second Sight Medical Products, described the AMD study as "totally groundbreaking research".

The trial is being held in the Manchester Clinical Research Facility - funded by the National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome Trust, which aims to bring new drugs and medical devices to patients.

Cathy Yelf, of the Macular Society, said: "This is an exciting result and we are following the progress of these trials with great interest.

"Macular degeneration can be a devastating condition and very many people are now affected as we live longer.

"These are early trials but in time this research may lead to a really useful device for people who lose their central vision."

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