Argus II ‘bionic eye’ implanted for first time in patient with AMD

A man with age related macular degeneration has become the first person with the condition to receive an implant to restore his sight.

Ray Flynn, 80, had the Argus II device implanted during a four-hour procedure carried out by Prof Paulo Stanga at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.

The device, developed by Sylmar, California-based Second Sight and previously implanted into to patients with advanced retinitis pigmentosa, converts video images from a miniature camera installed in Flynn’s glasses.

Flynn’s condition, shared by over 500,000 people in the UK, is not painful but it does impair a person’s central vision, making it difficult to recognise faces and rendering everyday tasks such as reading or driving impossible.

“The dry form of AMD is a common, but untreatable condition,” Prof Stagna said in a statement. “In the western world, it is the leading cause of sight loss. Unfortunately, with an ageing population, it is becoming more common.”

Flynn was fitted with the device in June, which was activated on 1 July.

Prof Sagna said: “Mr Flynn’s progress is truly remarkable. He is able to detect the orientation of lines and objects very effectively while using only the newly acquired central visual function.

“It is very encouraging to hear Ray say that he can now make out the outline of a face. We expect that, in time the benefits derived from the implant will increase as we find the best settings for the patient and the patient himself learns how to interpret the information received through it.”

How it works

Argus II is Second Sight’s second-generation implantable device intended to treat profoundly blind people suffering from degenerative diseases. It was approved for sale in the European Economic Area in 2011.

According to the company, the system converts video images captured from a camera — housed in the patient’s glasses — into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes on the retina.

These pulses then stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.

Over time Flynn will learn to interpret these patterns and regain vision.

“This technology is revolutionary and changes patients’ lives – restoring some functional vision and helping them to live more independently,” said Prof Stanga, who works in Manchester University’s Institute of Human Development as Professor of Opthalmology & Retinal Regeneration.

Commenting on the trial, Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “Macular degeneration can be a devastating condition and very many people are now affected as we live longer. These are early trials but in time this research may lead to a really useful device for people who lose their central vision.”

Four more patients with dry AMD are now being recruited for the trial being carried out at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.