Thursday 31 March 2011
Australian researchers have developed a breakthrough microchip that gives life to the wide-view bionic eye, as preparations begin for the first set of patient tests.
A/Prof Gregg Suaning (University of New South Wales), leader of the wide-view device development team for Bionic Vision Australia explains: “This is a remarkable new microchip that has brought an Australian retinal implant much closer to reality.
“At only five square millimeters, the device is tiny, but represents a significant advance in nerve stimulation technology. It has 98 precisely-controlled stimulation channels and numerous features that allow for the delivery of electrical stimulation that can restore some sense of vision,” A/Prof Suaning said.
Prof Anthony Burkitt, director of Bionic Vision Australia says: “Only a year after receiving funding for the project, this achievement represents a major advance in technology that will ultimately deliver improved independence and navigation ability for the vision impaired community.
“This microchip is at the heart of the retinal implant, which stimulates the retinal cells to elicit vision. It is an important component in the development of our first bionic vision system that may provide real, functional benefits for patients and make our technology competitive internationally,” Prof Burkitt said.
Preliminary laboratory tests of this microchip are yielding very promising results. The wide-view bionic vision system has progressed through a series of preclinical studies to test the safety and efficacy of the technology. A safe surgical technique has been developed for implantation.
Clinicians are now screening people with retinitis pigmentosa to develop a selection protocol for the first group of patients who will participate in tests of the device. Researchers will continue working with patients in the lead up to the first implant of the full system, due by 2013.
This is good news for people who experience progressive vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). RP affects 1.5 million people around the world, while AMD is responsible for almost half of all legal blindness in Australia. Bionic vision technology aims to restore some sense of vision to people affected by these degenerative conditions so they can regain their mobility and independence.
Bionic eye basics
The wide-view bionic eye consists of a camera, attached to a pair of glasses, which captures images and sends them to a body-worn processing unit. A wireless transmitter feeds the data and power from this unit to a microchip in the retinal implant. The microchip decodes this information and drives the electrical stimulation in the retina. These signals are then passed along the optic nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as vision.
Bionic Vision Australia is a national consortium of researchers from the Bionic Ear Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, NICTA, the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales.
The Australian National University and the University of Western Sydney are project partners. The first patient implant procedures and tests will take place at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, in Melbourne.
This research is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) through its Special Research Initiative (SRI) in Bionic Vision Science and Technology grant to Bionic Vision Australia.
Please direct media queries to the Bionic Vision Australia Marketing and Communications Manager on 03 9035 8829.