An Australian bionic eye invention may give new hope to the blind, the Melbourne Herald Sun reported today, after a 54-year-old Victoria woman received and tested the device.
Implanted behind Dianne Ashworth's left retina, the device contains 24 electrodes and relies on technology similar to cochlear, which has helped restore hearing to the deaf, reported the Herald Sun.
Bionic Vision Australia, a consortium of researchers funded by the Australian Research Council, reported on their website that the device, a "pre-bionic-eye," allows Ashworth a limited amount of vision. Here's what she experienced, via Bionic Vision's press release:
“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."
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How does this device work?
According to Bionic Vision, researchers give the patient an implant containing 24 electrodes in their retina, a layer of cells in the back of the human eye that is very sensitive to light.
The device is able to avoid the patient's damaged retina cells - which made them blind in the first place - and can send electrical impulses to the brain directly through the optic nerve, allowing the patient to "see."
A wire extends from the retina to a connector which sits behind the ear. The connector is attached to a unit in the laboratory, where researchers can stimulate the implant.
The researchers currently are figuring out how to create a vision processor using only flashes of light, says Bionic Vision.
The Aussie bionic eye is by no means the first effort to reverse-engineer sight for the blind.
In May, the BBC reported that Stanford researchers had invented a bionic device that could avoid cumbersome electronics, batteries and wiring, using a pair of "glasses" that can charge a retinal chip.
Also in May, two British men reported satisfaction to the BBC with their own electronic retinal implants, installed via a clinical trial at Oxford Eye Hospital and King's College Hospital in London.
Meanwhile, Monash Vision Group - also based in Melbourne - is developing its own bionic eye system. The brain implant, according to Al Jazeera, bypasses patient's visual mechanism entirely and sends images directly to the brain, meaning that users need not even have eyes.