Bionic Vision Australia reaches significant milestone with its first human retinal implant

Bionic Vision Australia is a consortium of Australian scientists who are working together on suprachoroidal retinal stimulation device for restoring the lost vision. This effort involves about 150 researchers at the Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, NICTA, University of Melbourne, and University of New South Wales in Sydney. The suprachoroidal approach shares some similarities with the cochlear implants, as in both cases the implants are placed in a fluid-based cavity adjacent to the compartment with sensory neurons. The suprachoroid approach is considered safer and easier than surgically-challenging placements directly above the retina (epiretinal) or below it (subretinal). The analogy with the cochlear implants is not a coincidence, as the Australian researchers have leveraged from their extensive experience in developing the first FDA-approved multi-channel cochlear stimulation device for restoring the hearing more than 30 years ago.
Toward their ultimate aim of implanting the 98-electrode suprachoroidal implant, in May 2012, the Australian researchers reached a significant milestone with an implantation of the early-prototype device in three patients with profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition. While the functionality of the prototype is rather limited (24-electrodes and a lack of wireless interface to the camera), it will enable psychophysics studies to carefully examine the visual percepts and allow researchers to develop appropriate visual processing strategies in preparation to implantation of the fully-functional device in 2013 or 2014. The R&D effort is being supported by a $42 million grant from the Australian government and technology-sharing agreements from Cochlear Ltd.

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