Brain and Body

Woman sees for first time in 16 years, thanks to bionic eye.

September 18, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

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Blind people have been given a new sense of hope as a bionic eye implant enables sight to be regained.

Over the past 20 years, biotechnology has become the most rapidly-growing field in scientific research, and engineers have been cranking out innovative devices for clinical trial. For example, Bionic arms, enable amputees to control movements with their thoughts, while the BrainPort training system lets people with visual and balance disorders send messages to the brain through their tongues. Now, bionic eyes are on their way to granting limited degrees of vision to the visually impaired.

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, made by a company called Second Sight, can restore  sight to people who lost it due to degenerative eye diseases like macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. These diseases damage the eyes’ photoreceptors, which are the cells at the back of the retina that perceive light patterns and pass on the information to the brain to be interpreted as images. The Argus II system replaces the damaged photoreceptors, allowing the blind to detect light again.

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Second Sight’s device consists of five main parts: a digital camera built into the pair of glasses, a video-processing microchip, a radio transmitter, a radio receiver, and a retinal implant. The bionic eye implant receives visual information from the mini-camera, and the images are converted into electrical pulses and transmitted wirelessly to electrodes attached to the retina. Then, the information is sent to the brain.

While the implant can’t provide highly detailed vision, patients are able to detect distinct shapes like door frames and furniture. It’s a huge leap forward in the field of vision repair, and in time, patients will become more comfortable with the implant and learn how to interpret the images more effectively.

Carmen Torres, one of the first people to receive the implant, compares the experience to learning a new language. After learning to understand the visuals, she can now do a number of activities that she’d lost the ability to do, like playing with her grandson. She told Local 10 News in Miami that, just 9 months after surgery, she can see things like sidewalks and buildings. When she gazes up at the night sky, she can even see the stars.



So far, around 100 patients worldwide have received the implant. The device is still going through a series of trials and developments, but promises to revolutionize treatment for people who lose their vision. After knowing what it’s like to be able to see the world around you, losing that ability is one of the most devastating and life-changing misfortunes. Second Sight aims to change people’s lives with exactly what its name indicates: a second chance to see the world.

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