Australian researchers prepare for bionic eye trial

Australian researchers are doing a lot with the bionic eye. In fact, Melbourne researchers with the Monash Vision Group, who are on track to have a direct-to-brain bionic eye implant ready for human trials next year, are ready to test its first full system prototype this month. Their efforts could help 85% of clinically blind people, including those affected by glaucoma and macular degeneration.

As Yahoo!7 reported, the system works after a patient dons glasses with a tiny camera, which will act like an eye's retina. A pocket processor can convert these images into electronic signals to be sent to a microchip implant in the brain.

"It will be implanted by highly skilled neurosurgeons and they incorporate a tiny microchip that's about 4x4 [millimeters] in size and that microchip then sends signals to hair-thin electrodes that penetrate into the visual cortex of the brain," explained the group's general manager Dr. Jeanette Pritchard, as quoted by the news group. "When those electrodes are stimulated, they produce sensations of light in the brain in the visual field of the recipient."

The Australian group has been working with Monash University, Grey Innovation, Alfred Health and Mini-Fab on the eye. That nation's government has made the development of the bionic eye a priority. In fact, about three years ago, it committed $50 million Australian ($52.2 million) over four years to develop the bionic eye. As part of that effort, MVG received $8 million Australian ($8.35 million) to work on an implant to stimulate the visual cortex within the brain, bypassing the eye and optic nerve.

The Australian efforts aren't the only ones focused on restoring vision with some sort of "bionic eye." Last year, Second Sight Medical Products saw the first commercial implantation of retinal prosthesis known as the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System. Argus II, which received marketing clearance in Europe in early 2011, was the world's first commercial implant intended to restore some vision to a previously blind patient, according to a company statement.

- see the MVG statement
- read the Yahoo!7 report

Related Article:
Aussie firms look to make bionic eye as Argus II gets EU OK