A 72-year-old Honolulu woman that has been blind for two years, underwent a four hour long procedure to place a bionic eye at the Hawaii Eye Surgery Center in Hawaii.
So far, the bionic eye is intended for patients with hereditary disease retinitis pigmentosa, responsible for severe vision impairment. However, Dr. Mark Humayan, inventor of the bionic eye implant, hopes the device will develop to a stage where it could assist more patients.
The procedure is the first of this type ever performed in the Asia-Pacific region, after 25 years of development.
“We have hundreds of millions of photo receptors in our eye, hundreds of millions, and with only 60 pixels patients who were completely blind can see large objects, can tell a table from a chair or a knife from a fork or a plate so it’s very exciting to see what the brain is able to fill in,” Humayan said.
To use the bionic eye, the patient will have to wear a special type of glasses that work both as a camera and as an image processor before the information is sent to the device implanted in the patient’s eye. The device processes the image information that the user “sees” will transfer from the retina to the brain via the optic nerve.
“If you can imagine if somebody is in total darkness and then they are actually able to see down a hallway and see somebody walk in a room, it’s just a huge impactful, impact on their life,” lead surgeon Dr. Gregg Komane said.
Patients with this type of condition only see shades of gray, but recent studies indicate they could see up to nine colors.
Surgeons consider the procedure a success, as the woman is expected to recover in a week and see the world again after losing her eyesight completely. Until the procedure, such action seemed impossible.
Recently, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration approved the device, with an estimated price tag of about $145,000. The exact price is still being determined.