Sunday, February 10, 2013

First bionic eye now available for sale

Blindness has been impossible to cure for a very long time. More recently, we have begun to understand how the eye turns light into the electrical signals that stimulate the nerves leading to the brain. Because the brain is where our eye sight is actually formed, it is necessary to copy the necessary electrical pulses, should we wish to restore blindness in cases where the normal conduction system in the eye is no longer functional. An implant from the company Second Sight is now available in Europe, and has been shown to restore vision at least partly in transplanted patients.

Price tag
Second Sight has announced it will charge 73.000 euros per implant, which is a hefty price. But realizing that this particular piece of technology can restore part of your vision, it is a price that most blind patients, or perhaps insurers, will gladly pay. The eye implant, which is dubbed Argus II, is already available in several European countries as one of the first of its kind that is commercially available. Second Sight expects that the American FDA will soon approve the device for medical use.

Argus II has been clinically studied for quite a while and previously released results showing that it had the capability to partly restore the vision of patients that were left completely blind prior to implantation. Until now, the eye implant partly restored vision in more than sixty patients. Some of them were even able to see colors again, and a few patients reported being capable of reading the headlines in the paper after transplantation.
Second Sight's sophisticated piece of technology works with a camera that captures images of the surroundings. The eye implant consequently converts the images to electrical pulses, that can be 'read' by the nerve that governs the connection with the brain. In that way the camera provides the information that the brain needs to create vision, a task that would normally be performed by the eye.

Being available for commercial purposes is a milestone in the development of eye implants. While it is currently not possible to restore vision completely, a partly restored eye sight is already a major step forward for blind patients. Hopefully the existing technique will be optimalized in the coming years.

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