A bionic eye is a prosthetic eye that incorporates an implant. It is oftentimes used for patients with retinal disease. The Bionic Eye is a device in which an artificial image can be visualized and transmitted in an external image to the brain. A human bionic eye is a synthetic organ for vision at present, but it will be developed into an artificial retina by connecting with the optical nerve of the eye.
The Bionic Eye was invented by Dr. Mark Humayun and his team who received funding from the Department of Defense (DOD). The Bionic Eye was first tested on a patient named Jerry Chalfant in 2004.
The device was implanted into the subretinal space of Mr. Chalfant’s right eye and allowed him to detect motion and distinguish light from dark, as well as the outline of large objects. On April 5, 2009, Mark Humayun implanted a second Bionic Eye into the left eye of Mr. Chalfant as part of a follow-up study.
The device will improve night vision and may expand his ability to see shapes and objects in complete darkness, with light sensitivity comparable to that of an indoor house lighting bulb – about ten times brighter than starlight.
The Bionic Eye is an implantable device consisting of three parts, which are the microprocessor unit, the camera and image processing board, and the transmitter. The system will be linked to a wireless video or audio-video processor that lets him see through his eye. It was designed by Retina Implant AG in Germany.
After the implant, some patients may be able to use their vision alone to see large letters at a distance of 20 centimeters. Some patients do not require the Bionic Eye because they can still read by much closer than that using their natural eyes without glasses, but with the Bionic Eye, he is able to get better daytime vision with his own eyes only if he uses glasses.
The Bionic Eye will help improve Mr. Chalfant’s quality of life in a remarkable way because he will no longer be completely dependent on his family for mobility and routine activities such as preparing meals, doing laundry, and cleaning the house. Besides, it is hard for people to work without sight since they can’t read and write notes, manage their schedule, or follow workplace safety rules.
The Bionic Eye will change Mr. Chalfant’s life from a completely blind person to one who can see shapes and objects in complete darkness with light sensitivity comparable to that of an indoor house lighting bulb – about 10 times brighter than starlight. It will also help him to recognize people, obstacles, and other objects in his way.
The main challenge for the Bionic Eye is that the patient’s brain has to learn how to interpret visual information from a new eye. It may take time before Mr. Chalfant can use it on his own without help from others such as family or staff.
Some existing technologies are not included in the bionic eye, such as bone conduction and camera-based systems, which help a blind person navigate by capturing images with a wearable video camera and then sending them directly to his brain via headphone stimulations or through the skull bones.
However, if the technology can be developed from the laboratory to the marketplace, it would be a new method for people who are partially blind.
The Bionic Eye is not yet ready for general use and further testing and usage have been required. It was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014. Studies of about 100 patients will continue until 2017.
However, the system is expected to be used for blind patients in a few years.
The major benefit of the Bionic Eye system over other similar systems is that it does not require glasses or contact lenses since the camera and transmitter are implanted into the eye, making it completely portable. It also provides binocular vision (depth perception) which helps people who are partially blind to move about more easily.
The Bionic Eye contains a thin, telescopic video camera mounted on the surface of an artificial lens. The camera is capable of sending images wirelessly in real-time to a small processor worn by the user on his belt or around his neck. That small transmitter then relays electrical impulses directly into the patient’s eye.
The camera captures light, converts it to electrical signals, and sends them wirelessly to the small processor around the patient’s neck or on their belt. The processor then sends these signals directly into the retina with a series of micro-impulses that stimulate cells in the retina and lead to vision.
These impulses are conducted through ocular nerves to the occipital lobe of the brain, where they are translated into patterns of light. The patient is not aware of these impulses and does not feel them when they occur.
Under normal circumstances, a person’s natural eye receives information from the retina and then relays it via nerve networks to the visual cortex where it is decoded into objects, shapes, and scenes.
The Bionic Eye will work in the same way that a healthy natural eye works by receiving information from the camera mounted on an artificial lens and then sending it directly to the occipital lobe of the brain where it will be “decoded” into normal vision.
The camera-and-transmitter combination may be considered to be quite large, but it is small enough such that it can be implanted into the patient’s eye.
The FDA approved the Bionic Eye for patients who are completely blind from retinitis pigmentosa in both eyes. However, the bionic eye has some limitations and will not help patients who have less vision or only some vision.
If a patient has very little vision, then he may not be able to learn how to use the bionic eye and its benefits are limited since patients who have no usable vision cannot get any benefit from the system. It does not restore normal sight as it only assists those with partial blindness.
Moreover, the Bionic Eye will not help other diseases related to eyesight such as glaucoma and cataract.
Moreover, patients must undergo a number of surgical procedures before they are eligible for the procedure. In total, it takes at least six hours for doctors to implant the camera-and-transmitter into an eye. This surgery is quite complex and some patients may not be able to tolerate it.
Another limitation is that the Bionic Eye cannot restore vision in those who have no retinal cells at all, but only areas of dead tissue. At this stage, surgeons can only implant a camera-and-transmitter into an eye if the patient already has some usable vision, but is not considered to be completely blind.
On the other hand, there are a number of advantages for those who have the surgery: patients can experience normal vision when using this technology. They will also gain back their ability to move around without help and do things that they could not before such as crossing streets on their own or reading a book.
Moreover, patients do not need an external power source for the Bionic Eye. They can use it for a lifetime without having to worry about recharging the equipment or replacing any parts. This surgery also helps them save money since they will no longer require private therapists and aides to assist them in their daily activities.
Finally, this device does not only help patients who are completely blind, but also those who have low vision. Some patients can already get some limited vision back when using the Bionic Eye as it improves their sight and assists them in getting around.
Although the Bionic Eye is not currently available to the public, many hope that new versions of this technology will be developed in the future that are more effective and reliable.
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