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Scientists may have made a significant breakthrough in restoring human sight, as a woman who had been blind for seven years has regained the ability to see shapes and colours with a bionic eye implant.
The 30-year-old woman had a wireless visual stimulator chip inserted into her brain by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) surgeons in the first human test of the product. As a result, she could see colored flashes, lines, and spots when signals were sent to her brain from a computer.
The device, which was developed as part of the Orion 1 programme by Second Sight, uses technology to restore sight by bypassing the optic nerve to stimulate the brain’s visual cortex, according to chairman Robert Greenberg.
It is designed for those who cannot benefit from the Argus II retinal system that was unveiled at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital last year, but has limited application, as it depends on the patient having some retinal cells.
This new system goes one step further by sending signals directly to the brain. It has the potential to restore sight to those who have gone completely blind for virtually any reason, including glaucoma, cancer, diabetic retinopathy, or trauma, according to the manufacturer.
The next step is to connect the implant to a camera on a pair of glasses, and the company plans to seek FDA approval in 2017 to get the go ahead to conduct these trials.
Second Sight Medical... said today the 1st patient was implanted with its Orion 1 visual cortical prosthesis device designed to restore vision to blind patients.
The procedure was performed as part of a proof-of-concept trial at UCLA. The trial looks to show initial safety and feasibility for human visual cortex stimulation, Sylmar, Calif.-based Second Sight said.
“Based on these results, stimulation of the visual cortex has the potential to restore useful vision to the blind, which is important for independence and improving quality of life,”
Graphene nanoribbons customized for medical use by William Sikkema, a Rice graduate student and co-lead author of the paper, are highly soluble in polyethylene glycol (PEG), a biocompatible polymer gel used in surgeries, pharmaceutical products and in other biological applications. When the biocompatible nanoribbons have their edges functionalized with PEG chains and are then further mixed with PEG, they form an electrically active network that helps the severed ends of a spinal cord reconnect.
An improvement could be achieved by placing a layer of artificial light sensors on the device and focus light on this layer instead.
The next step is to connect the implant to a camera on a pair of glasses