Moorfields Eye Hospital in London is planning to test a new bionic vision system that appears to be pulled strain out of science fiction.French company Pixium Vision developed the device, called the Iris II, which uses a camera to stimulate an implant within the eye to send image signals to the brain.
The plan is to equip 10 blind patients with these goggles, which vaguely resemble the futuristic eye-wear worn by blind Star Trek lieutenant commander Geordi La Forge. Those selected as participants in the trial will be patients suffering from a set of chosen conditions that are most likely to be treatable with this device. Those conditions include retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Usher syndrome, cone-rod dystrophy, and choroideremia.
Dr Mahi Muqit, lead researcher in the 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.”
This is only one of several retinal implant systems that are being simultaneously developed by various companies and institutions around the globe. The Iris II system alone has future tests planned in in France, Germany and Austria.
The implanted device is comprised of a small computer chip that connects to the eye’s retina via 150 separate electrodes. The patient will also wear a set of dark goggles, with a small camera built into them, which is tethered to a pocket sized portable computer. With all the components working in concert, an image is detected, processed, and sent via the electrodes on through the optic nerve and into the brain.
The visual abilities provided by the device aren’t quite as clear as normal vision, but are still a step above the blindness these patients currently suffer from. With some practice and adjustment, the Iris II can provide it’s wearer the ability to see the world in grey-scale.
While the trial has been approved by UK medical device regulators the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the starting date has yet to be determined.