12:00 AM, February 07, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 07, 2013

Bionic eye brings hope to the blind

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Afp, Washington

After years of research, the first bionic eye has seen the light of day in the United States, giving hope to the blind around the world.
The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System has helped more than sixty people recover partial sight, with some experiencing better results than others.
Consisting of 60 electrodes implanted in the retina and glasses fitted with a special mini camera, Argus II has already won the approval of European regulators.
"It's the first bionic eye to go on the market in the world, the first in Europe and the first one in the US," said Brian Mech, vice president of Second Sight Medical Products.
The California-based company has developed Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System.
Those to benefit from Argus II are people with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disease that results in the degeneration of the retinal photoreceptors.
The photoreceptor cells convert light into electrochemical impulses that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve, where they are decoded into images.
"The way the prosthesis works (is) it replaces the function of the photoreceptors," Mech told AFP.
The US Food and Drug Administration is soon expected to follow suit, making this bionic eye the world's first to become widely available.
Thirty people aged 28 to 77 took part in the clinical trial for the product, all of whom were completely blind.
Mech said the outcomes varied by participant.
"We had some patients who got just a little bit of benefit and others who could do amazing things like reading newspaper headlines," he said, adding that in some cases the subjects could even see in colour.
"Mostly they see in black and white, but we have demonstrated more recently we can produce colour vision as well," Mech said.
According to Mech, Argus II is already available in several European countries for 73,000 euros. A US price has not been set but is likely to be higher, he said.

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