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150 electrodes are implanted directly onto the retina of blind patients who are able to see in black and white

Bionic vision system to restore sight to the blind

A bionic vision system, that restores sight to blind people, is to be tested on patients in the UK at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

The Iris II system developed by French company Pixium Vision uses a bio-inspired camera to stimulate a retinal implant and send image signals to the brain.

At the heart of Iris II is a small silicon chip with 150 electrodes that is implanted on to the retina.

Patients don dark goggles which have an integrated video camera that sends images to a smartphone-sized portable computer, which converts them to electrical signals.

These are then transmitted wirelessly to the implant which in turn stimulates the optic nerve.

After surgery, patients have to learn to use the system, but with practice are able to ‘see’ black, white and grey shapes.

Other trials of the system are already under way in France, Germany and Austria.

Up to 10 patients in total are being recruited across Europe, the majority undergoing the procedure at Moorfields.

The British study will include patients suffering from the conditions retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Usher syndrome, cone-rod dystrophy, and choroideremia, all of which can lead to blindness.

It is likely the Moorfields patients will be from the UK, but they could include foreign citizens on the hospital's patient list.

Consultant ophthalmologist Dr Mahi Muqit, who is leading the Moorfields trial, said: "We are excited to participate in the clinical trial of Iris II and be the first site in the UK.

"Patients with RP can now benefit from a new choice of retinal implant that may potentially further improve visual outcomes. This new clinical trial is key for ophthalmic reference centres like Moorfields to evaluate the latest technologies."

A number of competing retinal implant systems are being developed by private companies and institutions around the world.

No starting date has yet been set for the trial, which has been approved by UK medical device regulators.

Tina Houlihan, chief executive of the charity RP Fighting Blindness, said: "We're always pleased to hear of new clinical trials being launched and welcome this announcement.

"Retinal implant technology is of great interest to our patient group and the progress made by researchers in the field over the past few years has been very encouraging.

"We wish those running the trial the very best of luck and look forward to learning about its outcomes."

Last year, a retired engineer from Manchester became the world’s first patient with a form of age-related vision loss to regain his sight with a bionic eye.

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