Retinal implants yield amazing results in U.K., China

Australia has been touted as a leader in the effort to develop the most efficient bionic eye. However, companies in other countries also have been working on this quest. Now, teams in China and the U.K. have made a great leap forward with the help of an electronic retina developed by Germany's Retina Implant and being evaluated in a multicenter clinical trial.

Oxford University reported this week that two patients have received Retina Implant's offering, and the results are amazing. Both patients could detect light immediately after the electronic retinas were switched on, and they are experiencing some restoration of useful vision. These are the first two of 12 implants planned for the U.K. portion of the trial.

Retina Implant's offering is designed to restore some sight to people with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease that sees light-detecting cells in the retina deteriorate over time. Roughly one in every 3,000 to 4,000 people in Europe have the condition.

How does it work? Well, doctors implant the microchip containing 1,500 tiny electronic light detectors below the patient's retina. The optic nerve can then pick up electronic signals from the microchip, thus allowing patients to regain some sight.

The 8-hour operation first required the implantation of the power supply, which is embedded under the skin behind the ear. The electronic retina is subsequently placed and stitched into position at the back of the eye. It was switched on about three weeks after the operations, and patients quickly noticed the results.

"The U.K. implants represent a significant milestone in Retina Implant's mission to restore vision to retinitis pigmentosa patients around the world," said Dr. Walter-G. Wrobel, CEO of Retina Implant, as quoted by MedicalXpress. "The Oxford Eye Hospital and King's College Hospital teams have done an excellent job and achieved exciting results. We look forward to continuing the momentum achieved in the trial thus far and to submitting for commercial approval when this phase of research is completed."

U.K. patients aren't the only ones benefiting from the tech at the moment. This week, Retina Implant disclosed the first implant of its microchip in China at the University of Hong Kong Eye Institute. The patient has regained useful sight as a result of the February procedure. 

"I have always believed that subretinal chip implant offers the best chance of success in our quest for artificial vision," said professor David Wong, who conducted the procedure. "After months of careful preparation, we are very excited to carry out the first implantation in a Chinese patient, marking the first such procedure outside of Germany. The whole team is delighted with how smoothly the surgery went and we are particularly excited by the amazing early results, which prove that patients of this previously incurable condition can in fact regain at least some [sight]."

Retina Implant, which was founded in 2003, is conducting a multicenter study that includes sites in Germany, the U.K., Hungary, Italy and the U.S. 

- see the Retina Implant release
- get more from Oxford University
- read the story at MedicalXpress