Second Sight Medical Products have developed the eye over a period of time and tests have so far proven to restore partial sight to more than 60 patients, with some delivering better results than others. Brian Mech, Second Sight’s vice president of business development, said: “It’s the first bionic eye to go on the market in the world, the first in Europe and the first one in the U.S.”
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), is an inherited, degenerative eye disease, caused by abnormalities of the photoreceptors in the eye, and affects about 100 000 people in the US alone. In clinical trials, participants had varying results, but even though all were blind to begin with, some were able to gain a form of sight to the extend of actually being able to read a newspaper headline. Some were also able to distinguish colour. “Mostly they see in black and white, but we have demonstrated more recently we can produce color vision as well,” Mech said.
Combining a set of glasses with a mini camera worn by the patient, and an epiretinal prosthesis surgically implanted in and on the eye that includes an antenna, an electronics case, and an electrode array, light entering the eye is converted by photoreceptor cells into electrochemical impulses. These impulses are then transmitted to the brain through the optic nerve and “decoded” as images. The basic function is that the prosthesis replaces the damaged photoreceptors.
The Argus II is already available in the EU and Sells for around €73 000 (US$99 120).