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World's first prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes

31st August 2012

In a major development, researchers at Bionic Vision Australia have successfully performed the first implantation of an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes.

 

bionic eye
Credit: Image courtesy of Bionic Vision Australia

 

Ms Dianne Ashworth has profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition. She has now received what she calls a ‘pre-bionic eye’ implant that enables her to experience some vision. A passionate technology fan, Ms Ashworth was motivated to make a contribution to the bionic eye research program.

After years of hard work and planning, Ms Ashworth’s implant was switched on last month at the Bionics Institute, while researchers held their breaths in the next room, observing via video link.

“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,” Ms Ashworth said.

Professor Emeritus 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.”

“We are working with Ms Ashworth to determine exactly what she sees each time the retina is stimulated using a purpose-built laboratory at the Bionics Institute. The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information.

“Having this unique information will allow us to maximise our technology as it evolves through 2013 and 2014,” Professor Shepherd said.

 

 

 

This early prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. 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. This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.

Researchers continue development and testing of the wide-view implant (98 electrodes) and the high acuity implant with 1024 electrodes. Patient tests are planned for these devices in due course. The high resolution version is expected to be fully ready and commercially available by 2019.

 

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