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Bionic vision within sight

15 Jul 2013

A bionic eye that restores sight to people blinded by damaged optical nerves could undergo human trials as soon as next year.

In the latest advance in efforts to restore function to damaged senses in humans, the Monash Vision Group - a partnership between Monash University, Alfred Health, MiniFab and Grey Innovation – have developed a bionic eye that could improve the sight of 85 per cent of the visually impaired.

The device is designed to bypass damaged optic nerves and – using wireless signals transmitted to an implant in the brain – provide a sense of sight,

The bionic eye uses a digital camera - embedded on the left hand side of the head - to capture detailed images which are modified by digital processors and transmitted to a chip implanted at the back of the brain.

The chip, which is implanted on the surface of the brain, presents what is “seen” by the camera as a series of mapping dots representing the outline of nearby objects.

The device is still under development, but researchers believe it will help people suffering a wide range of visual impairment, including all three of the main causes of blindness in Australia – diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

It is suitable for use in patients whose visual cortex is intact, but who have acquired retinal, optic nerve and ocular damage.

Bluesky Group Director and practicing professional at Monash Art Design and Architecture, Mark Armstrong, has come together with engineers, computer scientists and medical researchers from Monash University, Alfred Health and industry partners Grey Innovation and MiniFAB to design the latest prototype.

The team is focused on creating a product that is wearable, comfortable and lightweight, so that it is suitable for everyday use. 

In addition to the implants in the head, the device includes a hand held vision processor that will provide power to the system, as well as controls to select visual filters and mapping options.

Using normal neurosurgery procedures, the brain implant is inserted through a small area of the skull, which is temporarily removed.

A steralised chip is then inserted and positioned on the surface of the brain. The excised area of skull is then replaced, providing protection for the patient from infection.

The Group is refining the device and making preparations for a demonstration involving at least one human recipient next year.

Sanja Novakovic



Published: 15 Jul 2013