Surgeons at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital in the UK have performed the world’s first bionic eye implant on an 80 year old patient, Ray Flynn, who has total loss of his central vision as a result of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The bionic eye implant, or the Argus II implant, was developed by US firm Second Sight, and has previously been used to restore partial vision to patients who are blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa.

The implant works by receiving visual information from a miniature camera mounted on special glasses worn by the patient. The images are then converted into electrical pulses and transmitted wirelessly to electrodes attached to the retina, stimulating the remaining cells which send the information to the brain.

While the implant cannot provide any highly detailed vision, it can help patients to detect distinct patterns such as door frames and shapes, helping them function with daily tasks.

The implant operation on Flynn, which was led by Consultant Ophthalmologist and vitreo-retinal surgeon at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and professor of ophthalmology and retinal regeneration at the University of Manchester, Paulo Stanga, took a total four hours and has been deemed a great success.

“Mr Flynn’s progress is truly remarkable, he is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively,” said Prof Stanga. “I think this could be the beginning of a new era for patients with sight loss.”

During a test two weeks after the surgery Flynn was able to detect the pattern of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines on a computer screen using the implant. During the test he was instructed to keep his eyes closed so that the medical team could ensure that the visual information was coming from the camera on his glasses and the implant.

According to Prof Stanga, in time Flynn will be able to learn how to interpret the images from the implant more effectively.

Flynn’s operation is part of clinical trial at Manchester Clinical Research Facility, which is being funded by the National Institute for Health Research and Wellcome Trust. Four more patients with dry AMD will also receive the implant as part of a clinical trial.

The Argus II costs about £150,000, including treatment costs, although all the patients on the trial will be treated free of charge.

“We hope these patients will develop some central visual function which they can work in alongside and complement their peripheral vision,” said Prof Stanga.

“We are very excited by this trial and hope that this technology might help people, including children with other forms of sight loss,” concluded Prof Stanga.

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