By: Pooja Jaeel

Duke Hospital has recently been FDA approved to provide “bionic eyes” for severely blind patients.

Along with Duke, Second Sight, the developer of the bionic eye, has chosen 19 other test sites for the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System.

Second Sight has developed this technology in hopes of restoring independence and functionality to their patients. While the patients will not have full sight restored, they will be able to detect changes in light patterns that will help them navigate their environments.

As of now, the Argus II system is only designed for patients suffering from the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa. Potential prosthetic users will first undergo a complicated surgery in order to imbed an antenna and other electrical equipment in and on the surface of the eye. They will also be required to wear external equipment, like glasses and a video processing unit. Together, these machines will coordinate to provide a picture of the user’s environment.

Explains Duke University Opthamologist, Dr. Paul Hahn, “A camera that’s connected to a pair of glasses…picks up a little signal and sends it to a little computer that’s worn on the patient’s belt. And then that computer sends the signal wirelessly to a device that is surgically implanted inside the eyeball.” The signal sent to the optical nerve by the device is then coded into differing patterns of light. Post surgery, the patients will spend 10 to 15 hours with various occupational therapists in order to learn to read and translate these light pattern to visual cues.

Here is a video by Second Sight that demonstrates how Argus II functions.

One of the most pressing drawbacks to this procedure is the high price tag. Including surgery, hospital stay and the post-op therapy sessions, the Argus II costs around $200,000 dollars per patient. In order to meet the Duke University’s goal of completing five such surgeries within the first year of implementation, Dr. Hahn and his associates are trying to find additional funding sources. Currently, they are looking to insurance companies and Medicare to recognize this procedure.

In the meantime, Second Sight research labs are busy making improvements to the current model. For the next version, they hope to add color and increase resolution of the images.

Sources: Second Sight, North Carolina Public Radio, The Herald Sun