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World-first bionic eye implant in Melbourne

2012 August 30

Ms Dianne Ashworth - eye examination by Dr Penny Allen

Bionic Vision Australia researchers have successfully performed the first bionic eye implant of an early prototype at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne.

The bionic eye was implanted in a woman who has profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition.

Ms Dianne Ashworth received the ‘pre-bionic eye’ implant which was switched on last month at the Bionics Institute after years of hard work and planning.

With researchers watching via video link in the next room, Ms Ashworth reported experiencing some vision: “I didn’t know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash…it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye,” she said.

Early bionic eye prototype - electrode array (image courtesy of Bionics Institute)

The prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light.

Feedback from Ms Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light. This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera – yet. This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.

Chairman of Bionic Vision Australia, Professor Emeritus David Penington AC, said: “These results have fulfilled our best expectations….Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to ‘build’ images for Ms Ashworth. The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices.”

Director of Bionic Vision Australia, Professor Anthony Burkitt, said: “This outcome is a strong example of what a multi-disciplinary research team can achieve. Funding from the Australian Government was critical in reaching this important milestone.”

Dr Penny Allen, a specialist surgeon at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, led the surgical team which implanted the prototype at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne.

“This is a world first – we implanted a device in this position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach. Every stage of the procedure was planned and tested, so I felt very confident going into theatre,” Dr Allen said.

Director of the Bionics Institute, Professor Rob Shepherd, led the team in designing, building and testing this early prototype to ensure its safety and efficacy for human implantation. Cochlear technology supported aspects of the project.

“We are working with Ms Ashworth to determine exactly what she sees each time the retina is stimulated using a purpose built laboratory at the Bionics Institute. The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information. Having this unique information will allow us to maximise our technology as it evolves through 2013 and 2014,” he said.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu said: “This is an exceptional collaborative effort by a Melbourne-led team of Australian researchers and clinicians, encompassing three universities, three medical research institutes, National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) and hospital surgeons and clinicians.

“Victoria’s exceptional research and technical capabilities are now bringing major innovations to the world.

“Inspirational announcements of this kind allow us a moment of reflection to celebrate and consider the significant role that Victoria’s eminent researchers and innovators are making to help create a better world,” Mr Baillieu said.

Bionic Vision Australia is one of only two projects funded nationally to develop technology to restore a sense of vision to people with profound blindness. Both syndicates are Melbourne based. Bionic Vision Australia is a national consortium led by The University of Melbourne and involving two Victorian independent medical research institutes – the Bionics Institute and the Centre for Eye Research AustraliaNICTA and UNSW. The Monash Vision Group is a consortium of Monash University, Alfred Health, MiniFab and Grey Innovation.

– Photos by David Mirabella

3 Responses leave one →
  1. جميلة permalink
    September 1, 2012

    Great achievement. The future holds a lot for this kind of revolution

  2. September 15, 2012

    Great achievement!

    Unless we manage to develop a new recovery method for retina, I hope that the resolution of those devices will be significantly improved to enable much better vision and object recognition for the users who employ them.

  3. October 4, 2012

    Wow.. Congrats and this is great achievement of Australia. Well Australian researchers have successfully performed the first implantation of an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes. A blind woman, Ms Dianne Ashworth, 54, who has serious vision loss due to an inherited condition (retinitis pigmentosa ) can now see spots of light after being implanted with an early prototype bionic eye,
    and Again Congrats
    Love you Australia.

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