Manchester eye specialists have implanted an artificial retina or 'bionic eye' in two patients who became blind due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited and degenerative disease of the retina.
The surgery was carried out by a team led by Paulo Stanga, reader in ophthalmology at Manchester University and consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.
The procedure is part of an international trial of the intraocular electronic retinal prosthesis, which is intended to help some blind people regain a degree of vision. The Manchester patients are two of only 25 people worldwide to participate in the trial to date.
Using Argus II technology, developed by Second Sight Medical Products in Sylmar, California, the implant aims to restore a basic level of useful vision in the form of spots of light and shades of light and dark to people with very severe retinitis pigmentosa.
The technology consists of a tiny camera and transmitter mounted in a pair of glasses. This camera sends a wireless signal via the transmitter to an ultra-thin electronic receiver that is implanted in the eye and attached to the retina.
The electrodes are intended to stimulate the remaining retinal nerves, allowing a signal to be passed along the optic nerve to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to which electrodes are stimulated.
Stanga, who is based in the School of Clinical and Laboratory Sciences, and part of the National Institute for Health Research Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), said: 'We are very encouraged by the trial's results so far.
'The "bionic eye" operations went exactly according to plan and both patients are doing well, although it will be several months before the functional outcome is fully known. We hope the implant will improve each patient's orientation and mobility, spatial localisation, and motion detection, perhaps giving these patients navigational vision in familiar and unfamiliar environments.'
Extensive testing is just beginning on the two Manchester patients as the implant and video camera link are turned on to try and optimise retinal stimulation. Manchester Royal Eye Hospital is also recruiting new subjects to the trial.