A retired engineer from Manchester has become the world’s first patient with a type of age-related vision loss to have regained his sight with an advanced bionic eye.
The device, developed by Second Sight Medical Products, works by converting video images captured by a miniature camera positioned on the patient's glasses into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to electrodes on the surface of the retina.
The pulses stimulate the retina's remaining cells, resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns to regain some visual function.
The 80-year-old patient, named as Ray Flynn, suffered from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As a result of the condition, he lost almost all of his central vision. His peripheral vision remained quite intact but his quality of life suffered as a result of the condition.
"Before, when I was looking at a plant in the garden it was like a honeycomb in the centre of my eye. That has now disappeared. I can now walk round the garden and see things,” Flynn commented on the improvement in his vision since his device was turned on earlier this month.
"It's definitely improved my vision but I haven't been out and about on a bus yet. I don't think I will for a little while."
Doctors at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital inserted the Argus II implant into Flynn’s retina last month during a four-hour procedure. Overall 130 patients around the world have previously received the device but all of them suffering from complete vision loss. This makes Manchester-based Mr Flynn the first person in the world to have a combined natural and artificial sight.
"Mr Flynn's progress is truly remarkable,” said Professor Paulo Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist and vitreo-retinal surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. “He is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively.”
Before the surgery, Flynn was forced to rely on his peripheral vision to carry out everyday tasks, which is extremely exhausting. The device will thus provide him a great relief.
"This is new information that Ray's brain is receiving and his brain now needs to get use to interpreting it,” said Professor Stanga.
"As far as I am concerned, the first results of the trial are a total success and I look forward to treating more dry AMD patients with the Argus II as part of this trial. We are currently recruiting four more patients to the trial in Manchester."
AMD is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world, with between 20 and 25 million sufferers worldwide. Mr Flynn is affected by dry AMD, which does not impair his peripheral vision but is untreatable by existing methods.