Science

Vision-impaired can see light with world’s first bionic eye

| | Updated on: Aug 30, 2012

A blind Australian woman can now see spots of light after being implanted with an early prototype of the world’s first bionic eye.

Dianne Ashworth, 54, was the first patient fitted with the device in surgery at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in May, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

It was switched on last month at the Bionics Institute in East Melbourne after her eye had recovered fully from surgery.

“All of a sudden I could see a little flash ... it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation, there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye,” Dianne Ashworth was quoted as saying by the paper.

In the bionic eye, electrodes are inserted into the retina of vision-impaired patients.

The electrodes send electrical impulses to nerve cells in the eye, which occur naturally in people with normal vision.

In the early prototype bionic eye, the electrodes are connected to a receptor fitted to the back of Dianne Ashworth’s ear, which is then plugged in through an external wire to a unit in the laboratory.

Australian Researchers in the laboratory use the unit to control the information sent to Ashworth’s eye, allowing them to study how the brain reacts.

Feedback from Dianne Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so they can build images using flashes of light.

Bionics Institute Director Rob Shepherd said the next step was to test various levels of electrical stimulation.

“We are working with Ms Ashworth to determine exactly what she sees each time the retina is stimulated using a purpose-built laboratory at the Bionics Institute,” Rob Shepherd said.

“The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information. Having this unique information will allow us to maximise our technology as it evolves through 2013 and 2014,” he added.

Published on August 30, 2012

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