Second Sight's first patients receive its bionic eye

After more than 20 years of research and development, Second Sight Medical Products has performed its first commercial implants of its pioneering retinal implants in patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease. The California company gained FDA approval for the device, called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, last February, making it the first ever eye implant designed for people with RP.

The Argus II bionic eye--Courtesy Second Sight

The procedures took place at the University of Michigan's Kellogg Eye Center, one of a dozen facilities in the U.S. that's evaluating patients who are interested in receiving the implant, according to a press release from Second Sight.

RP is an inherited disease that attacks the light-sensitive cells of the retina. Argus uses electrical stimulation to bypass those cells and activate remaining viable cells, thereby restoring some ability for patients to perceive shapes, people, and other objects, according to Second Sight. "It could allow them to gain more independence and the ability to go about their daily lives with more confidence," said Thiran Jayasundera, one of the doctors who performed the implants, in the release.

Second Sight estimates there are about 1.2 million patients worldwide with RP. Argus II is also approved in Europe.

One of Second Sight's biggest victories in its effort to conquer the global market came in October, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began covering Argus implants. Winning insurance coverage for devices and diagnostics is far from easy in the current healthcare environment, with the Affordable Care Act putting pressure on providers to cut costs. The CMS signoff is particularly vital because it often prompts private insurers to follow suit and offer comparable coverage.

Second Sight says Kellogg has selected more patients to receive the implants in the coming weeks, and that several other eye treatment centers are preparing to offer the treatment to their patients.

- read Second Sight's press release