Two blind patients in Britain became the first new owners of an artificial electronic retinal device last week.
Surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London successfully transplanted the bionic eye, which uses a video camera and transmitter mounted on a pair of glasses.
The artificial retina enables patients to discriminate rudimentary images of motion, light and dark.
The operations were carried out by Mr Lyndon da Cruz, a consultant retinal surgeon, and his team from the Vitreo Retinal department at Moorfields, under the supervision of American colleagues who developed the device with Second Sight in the US, and who pioneered the Argus II implantation procedure.
“Moorfields is proud to have been one of only three sites in Europe chosen to be part of evolving this exciting new technology,” said Mr. da Cruz.
“The devices were implanted successfully in both patients and they are recovering well from the operations. It is very special to be part of a program developing a totally new type of treatment for patients who would otherwise have no chance of visual improvement.”
American researchers hope the camera will one day be shrunk to nearly pea-size so it can be implanted into the eye, thus replacing natural tissue with technology.
Surgeons hope this implanted version of the technology could be available to NHS patients within three to five years.
Linda Moorfoot had been completely blind for over 10 years with retinis pigmentosa. She was one of a few American patients to be fitted with the current version of the implant.
“When I go to the grandkids’ hockey game or soccer game I can see which direction the game is moving in. I can shoot baskets with my grandson, and I can see my granddaughter dancing across the stage. It’s wonderful,” Moorfoot said.
US surgeons were able to fit the two British patients with even more advanced devices than the one given to Mrs. Moorfoot.
The current model 60 electrodes to give a clearer image than the previous model, which only had 16 electrodes. Meanwhile in California, scientists are developing an implant with 1,000 electrodes, which should allow facial recognition.
John Marshall, of St Thomas’ Hospital, London, and the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society (BRPS), gave warning that it was still “very early days” for the technology.
“It is very, very good news that devices have been developed, it is very good news that in experimental trials some individuals have had these inserted,” he said.
“However, the general public should not run away with the idea that this is going to be routine surgery for blind people in the immediate future because there is an enormous amount to learn.”
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