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Bionic Eye Implant: Does a Cybernetic Eye Guarantee Clear Vision?

Bionic eye implants restore vision for patients with degenerative retinal diseases. As always, Flo’s here to shed some light on the subject by delving into how the cybernetic eye really works. What kind of image quality can it deliver? Is it a potential cure for blindness?

About 40 million people worldwide are struggling with blindness and roughly 124 million experience impaired vision. As such, scientists continue to create new and innovative solutions to these problems, one example of which is the bionic eye.

A healthy human eye begins working the moment a light ray enters it. The lens and cornea focus the light ray onto your retina. Located at the back of the eyeball, your retina contains light-sensitive cells that convert these rays into electrical energy. The optic nerve then transports it to the brain, allowing it to interpret the image.

When a person is blind, certain stages of this process don’t happen the way they should. Sometimes, the lens or cornea is diseased or damaged, or the retina is unable to perceive light rays. In other instances, the vision signal gets lost somewhere along the pathway to the brain. 

A visual prosthesis is often used to treat severe loss of vision by stimulating secondary neurons at any point along the pathway via electrical pulses. Various types of bionic eye implants have been designed to stimulate retinal cells and assist the brain in interpreting signals and conveying images.

At the moment, the only commercially available and approved cybernetic eyes are retinal implants. However, cataract surgeries and cornea transplants can replace the lens and cornea if they’re incapable of focusing light rays due to clouding, etc.

Of the several versions of bionic eye implants currently in development, only one is available in the U.S.: the Argus® II bionic eye. This particular product is suitable for blindness resulting from certain eye disorders, including end-stage degenerative retinal diseases (e.g., retinitis pigmentosa). The Argus® II bionic eye contains 60 electrodes, which trigger the electrical stimulation of surviving nerve cells present in the retina.

Keep in mind that a bionic or cybernetic eye is quite different from a prosthetic or mechanical eye. The latter is considered an artificial or glass eye that physically replaces an eye removed due to pain, trauma, disease, or disfigurement. 

In contrast, a bionic eye implant works either within the existing eye structure or the brain. Therefore, the purpose of a cybernetic eye is mainly functional while the purpose of a mechanical eye is mainly cosmetic.

Exactly how is a cybernetic eye inserted into the patient? The surgeon places a small microchip on the top portion of the eye and connects it to 60 electrodes on the retina’s surface. 

They then attach a small camera to a set of glasses that captures visual sequences occurring in front of the patient. The bionic eye processes these images and sends a series of instructions to a wireless device implanted at the back of the eye, on the retina. Its cells decipher the signal and transmit electrical impulses to the brain through the optic nerve.

These events all occur in real-time so that patients receiving bionic eyes will not only enjoy better vision but enhanced mobility and greater independence.

As previously mentioned, bionic eye implants seem ideal for individuals who aren’t congenitally blind but sustained severe vision loss due to degenerative diseases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System for use as a robotic eye. It’s proven extremely beneficial for patients with retinitis pigmentosa, which affects about one in 5,000 people. This particular bionic eye implant is also being tested as a possible solution to a more common condition known as age-related macular degeneration.

Patients who’ve undergone bionic eye implant surgery may visualize pixelated images, with edges and outlines. They’re able to navigate their surroundings with some degree of ease and carry out daily activities.

Initially, of course, it’s difficult to interpret the many things a newly inserted bionic eye is processing. The patient sees flashes of light, but their brain must still learn to decipher their meaning ‒ a process that could take approximately six months.

Although a robotic eye could aid in the perception of shapes, movement, and light, it might not result in a 100 percent improvement in overall vision. Limitations on the capabilities of a retinal cyborg eye lie primarily in the fact that such implants contain just 60 electrodes. Compare this to natural human vision, which requires roughly one million electrodes.

Another option is the bionic contact lens. It isn’t usually intended for those experiencing severe loss of vision, and instead, aims to improve eyesight in individuals who already wear glasses or contact lenses. Numerous corporations are currently developing bionic lenses with diverse approaches and techniques.

A bionic contact lens surgically replaces the eye’s natural lens. Its main goal is to increase visual acuity at all distances. Some bionic contact lenses autoregulate after implantation because they’re directly connected to the eye muscles, allowing the patient to focus at various ranges.

Unfortunately, the long-term impact of degenerative retinal diseases has left many individuals struggling with impaired vision or even blindness. Bionic eye implants can help them regain a significant portion of what was lost.

When a bionic eye is paired with camera glasses and a processor, it may partially reverse the effects of disorders like retinitis pigmentosa. This amazing technology could permanently change the everyday lives of millions of people all over the world.

https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2018/12/13/bionic-eye-project-has-sights-on-human-trials.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926652/

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/articles/gold-standard-for-bionic-eye

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