A Dream Becomes A Reality
For the blind to regain sight may seem like a concept out of fiction; an issue that is beyond the limits of mankind to solve. Yet, the study of ophthalmology and neuroscience develops everyday, and scientists have already discovered ways for those with moderate to severe vision impairment to regain some degree of sight. This was the dream of not only those with vision loss, but for those who utilize technology to achieve this goal. Studies and research conducted over the past decade have yielded the bionic eye.
A bionic eye, clinically known as a retinal prosthesis, is a device that is surgically implanted into the eye. It is made up of three major components: an external camera, a transmitter, and an internal microchip. On a pair of eyeglasses that the patient wears, a camera and transmitter are attached, taking in the light from a person’s surroundings and converting it into high-frequency radio waves that are sent to the stimulator microchip. This microchip is located on the retina, which is found at the back of the eye. The retina is the part of the eye that contains retinal cells, which generate electrical signals that are sent to the brain to produce an image. Essentially, the radio waves from the transmitter engage the stimulator on the microchip, resulting in a transfer of electric pulses that are sent to the remaining cells in the retina. The optic nerve relays the electric pulses to the brain, where rudimentary images are produced. What the patient sees with this device is a pixelated black and white image, and although it is far from normal vision, it lays the foundation for future development.
The first trial of the bionic eye was successfully implanted into a patient in 2009, with credit going to Dr. Rajat N. Agrawal and Dr. Mark S. Humayun. Eventually, a company called Second Sight, based in the United States, adapted this technology and created a modified version called Argus II. To continue the development of this practice, Second Sight sought and received approval from the FDA in 2013. Since then, Argus II has been implemented into the lives of more than 300 people.
As Argus II and other retinal devices are such advanced technologies, there is a limit to how many patients can afford such a treatment. The prosthesis costs about $100 000 USD, excluding the price of the surgery to implant it. This poses the question of whether or not Argus II is available to everyone, as the majority of those suffering from blindness live in developing nations. In spite of this, there is no reason to lose hope. For technology to evolve as much as it has in the past decade is already a great indicator that these medical practices will be more accessible to the general public in the future.