The First Bionic Eye
The first time in human history, scientists from the Bionic Vision Australia gave a blind woman sight using a bionic eye. The implant, which looks like the model worn by Arnold in The Terminator movies, will transform the lives of millions suffering from blindness or other eyesight problems.
The first person to receive the implant was a woman called Dianne Ashworth, she was suffering from an incurable eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, she had lost almost all her vision when surgeons at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne made the amazing surgery in May of 2012.
Being the first implant in history it has a very low resolution, Dianne said: "I didn't know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash...it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye” You can't call it vision but it’s a step forward in the right direction
This early, the prototype has only 24 sensors and researchers continue the development and testing of the wide view implant with 98 electrodes and the high acuity implant with 1024 electrodes. With 98 electrodes, a person could be able to see large objects and with 1.024, they could recognize faces and large print.
Professor Emeritus David Penington AC, Chairman of Bionic Vision Australia said: "These results have fulfilled our best expectations, giving us confidence that with further development we can achieve useful vision. Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to 'build' images for Ms. Ashworth. The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices."
How it works
A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. Each time it receives a signal from the outside world, it stimulates the retina, which then sends an impulse back to the brain. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light. Feedback from Ms. Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light. This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera, yet, but it will be included in the next generation prototypes.
The World Health Organization says that 39 million people worldwide are blind, and nearly 250 million are impaired by extremely poor vision.
Bionic Vision Australia, which brings together leading scientists, surgeons and engineers, is funded by the government, and hopes to get a market-ready bionic eye out by 2014.
WARNING: This video contains graphic footage of eye surgery.