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Bionic Eye: What Does the Future Hold?

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A clinical trial involving six blind persons was successful in restoring partial vision via the use of a revolutionary “bionic eye.” While it is too early to begin celebrating, it is nevertheless a significant advance made by scientists.

The device is surgically implanted into the retina of the eye (ouch!) and restores vision by generating images that trigger electrical signals in the nerves responsible for vision. The images are generated through a tiny camera that is implanted into two glass eyes.

Researchers were pleasantly surprised to find that the device was able to offer patients some percentage of vision. They had initially believed that it would only allow then to distinguish between dark and light. Lead researcher Mark Humayun, of the Doheny Eye Institute, a part of the University of Southern California, says that the device may just be able to restore vision among those who previously had full vision.

He doubts if the device would work in people who were born blind, but wants to try it out in a larger clinical trial involving a variety of patients with differing vision problems. “The ultimate aim to allow people recognize faces, and to allow the completely blind to get around on their own,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference.

The device has been constructed after painstaking research of 16 years. However Prof Humayun admitted that it could still be refined further. However the devices are costly to say the least. “These devices do cost a lot, and a fair benchmark would be a cochlear implant, which costs around $30, 000,” he said.

The device would also be unable to give any tangible benefits to people who have lost vision through damage to their optic nerves. However age-related macular denegation is one condition that could be partially corrected by this device. AMD is the most common cause of blindness in the United States and the bionic eye would be a wonderful blessing to affected people.

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