Researchers are now one step closer to returning sight to the blind with a bionic eye. A University of California, Los Angeles doctor successfully implanted a bionic eye component in a 30-year-old woman, and she was able to see lines, colors, and flashes of light. The “wireless visual cortical stimulator” is part of Second Sight‘s Orion I bionic eye.
Second Sight makes the Argus II retinal implant, which can send information to a patient’s brain from a camera and eyeglass system. But it doesn’t restore sight completely and won’t work for some patients, so the company has been working on another device, the Orion I Visual Cortical Prosthesis. A doctor implanted the new wireless system directly on the woman’s visual cortex, and the patient saw light “with no significant adverse side effects,” according to the company. The technology aims to provide sight by bypassing the optic nerve to stimulate the brain’s visual cortex, according to chairman Robert Greenberg.
Second Sight CEO Will McGuire said in a statement, “While we still have much work ahead, this successful human proof of concept study gives us renewed energy to move our Orion I development efforts forward. We believe this technology will ultimately provide a useful form of vision for the nearly six million people worldwide who are blind but not a candidate for an Argus II retinal prosthesis.” He also said the company would continue to develop the Argus II and work to make the prosthesis accessible for more people.
UCLA neurosurgeon Nader Pouratian, who implanted the stimulator, seems hopeful about the technology. In a statement he said, “Based on these results, stimulation of the visual cortex has the potential to restore useful vision to the blind, which is important for independence and improving quality of life.”
The next hurdle is U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Second Sight needs the agency’s permission to conduct trials of the entire Orion I system including glasses and a camera. Second Sight will submit their application for the trials in 2017.