World’s first bionic eye implant has been performed by Manchester surgeons in a patient with dry age-related macular degeneration.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world.
The patient, 80-year-old Ray Flynn, has dry age-related macular degeneration which has led to the total loss of his central vision.
Ray Flynn is using a retinal implant which converts video images from a miniature video camera worn on his glasses.
He can now make out the direction of white lines on a computer screen using the retinal implant.
Ray Flynn said he was “delighted” with the implant and hoped in time it would improve his vision sufficiently to help him with day-to-day tasks like gardening and shopping.
The Argus II implant, manufactured by the US-based company Second Sight, has previously been used to restore some vision to patients who are blind as a result of a rare condition known as retinitis pigmentosa.
The operation, at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, is the first time it has been implanted in a patient with age-related macular degeneration.
Ray Flynn said he had to sit very close to the TV to see anything.
He had given up going to see Manchester United play football as he cannot make out what is happening.
The operation took four hours and was led by Paulo Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist and vitreo-retinal surgeon at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and professor of ophthalmology and retinal regeneration at the University of Manchester.
Prof. Paulo Stanga said: “Mr. Flynn’s progress is truly remarkable, he is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively.
“I think this could be the beginning of a new era for patients with sight loss.”
The bionic eye implant receives its visual information from a miniature camera mounted on glasses worn by the patient.
The images are converted into electrical pulses and transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes attached to the retina.
The electrodes stimulate the remaining retina’s remaining cells which send the information to the brain.
In a test, two weeks after surgery, Ray Flynn was able to detect the pattern of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines on a computer screen using the implant.
Ray Flynn kept his eyes closed during the test so that the medical team could be sure that the visual information was coming via the camera on his glasses and the implant.
He said: “It was wonderful to be able to see the bars on the screen with my eyes closed.”
The implant cannot provide any highly detailed vision – but previous studies have shown it can help patients to detect distinct patterns such as door frames and shapes.
Prof. Paulo Stanga said that in time, Ray Flynn should learn how to interpret the images from the implant more effectively.
Four more patients with dry AMD will receive the implant at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, as part of a clinical trial.
Prof. Paulo Stanga said: “We hope these patients will develop some central visual function which they can work in alongside and complement their peripheral vision.
“We are very excited by this trial and hope that this technology might help people, including children with other forms of sight loss.”
The Argus II costs about $240,000, including treatment costs, although all the patients on the trial will be treated free of charge.
Gregoire Cosendai of Second Sight Medical Products, described the AMD study as “totally groundbreaking research”.