Previously blind patients who receive the recently FDA-approved Argus II bionic eye system will regain some degree of functional sight.
The retinal implant technology, developed and distributed by Second Sight, can improve quality of life for patients who have lost functional vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes retinal cells to die. But the implant doesn’t facilitate a sudden recovery of 20/20 vision.
Just as cochlear implants don’t have the sensitivity to accurately relay the complex mix of frequencies in music, bionic vision through the Argus II will be closer to a very grainy black-and-white film than an HD movie.
The multi-piece system starts with a digital camera mounted in eyeglasses. Images from the camera get translated into data through a miniature computer and sent via wireless transmitter to a computer chip on the side of the eyeball. From there, the chip activates an eyelash-thin electrode array implanted behind the retina, which then stimulates retinal cells to send visual information to the brain.
While the prosthesis sounds complex, it doesn’t compare to the intricacy of the natural human eye. Shawn Kelly, a scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, is currently working on his own retina implant system that includes the same basic technology as the Argus II. He explains that, with the technology available now, the electrode array isn’t finely tuned enough to produce the same detail and clarity of a fully functional human retina.