The world’s first bionic eye is set to hit the US market next month! The Argus II is a retinal implant that helps restore vision to patients blinded by a degenerative eye disease. The FDA officially approved the device early this year, following successful trials that allowed some patients to read the newspaper or see in color for the first time in years.
Much like a cochlear implant for the deaf, the Argus II bypasses the eye completely and directly signals the optic nerve, recording visual information from a eyeglass-mounted camera and feeding it directly to the patient’s brain. It’s been proven effective for patients blinded by retinitis pigementosa, a genetic condition affecting 1 in every 4,000 Americans.
While it may be effective for other conditions that affect the eye, including macular degeneration, it won’t be useful for patients with glaucoma, a condition which damages the optic nerve itself. The developer of the implant, Second Sight, is working on another version of the implant for those patients, which directly stimulates the brain instead.
Unfortunately, the implant won’t fully restore vision to people with RP — right now, helping people more easily identify photographed objects is the limit of its abilities. In the future, Second Sight hopes to create technologies that will allow patients to easily identify faces and that will restore 20/20 vision.
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