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Medical Breakthrough: The Bionic Eye Essay

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Updated: Sep 13th, 2022

Introduction

In the past two decades, researchers have made tremendous progress in biotechnology. Currently, there are multiple devices that are under clinical trials. They include the bionic arm and BrainPort among others. One of the now renowned biotechnological developments is the bionic eye. The other term for the bionic eye is a visual prosthesis. The eye is an “experimental optical device intended to restore functional vision in those suffering from partial or total blindness” (Watkins par. 1). The first bionic eye was invented in 1983. Since then, scientists have come up with multiple devices intended to assist individuals with visual impairment. Researchers develop bionic eyes based on the cause of blindness. The bionic eye “stimulates a part of the retina that is still healthy and provides flashes of light which the patient can interpret as an image” (Layton par. 1). Therefore, individuals who use bionic eyes do not see like those that use normal eyes. Nevertheless, the invention of the bionic eye will go a long way towards helping individuals suffering from retinitis pigmentosa. This article will discuss the background and the present breakthroughs in the development of the bionic eye.

Background of Bionic Eye

The development of the bionic eye came as a result of the impacts of retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Retinitis pigmentosa is an eye ailment that leads to the impairment of the retina. Scientists claim that the retina is an essential part of the eye as it changes light images to nerve signs. Besides, the retina transmits the nerve signs to the brain for interpretation. Doctor Mark Humayun was the first scientist to invent the bionic eye dubbed Argus Ocular Implant. The doctor felt challenged after his grandmother went blind at a time when there was no cure for blindness. His desire to assist people suffering from visual difficulties led to the invention of the first bionic eye. Dr. Mark came up with an intraocular retinal prosthesis that “restores some visual capabilities for patients whose blindness is as a result of retinitis pigmentosa” (Ayton and Nayagam par. 3). The doctor borrowed ideas from an artificial hearing device. According to the doctor, the bionic eye operates by vitalizing electrically distinct components of the visual pathway.

Facts about the Bionic Eye

Doctor Mark designed the bionic eye in such a way that it imitates the functions of the normal retina. The eye helps to reinstate sight for persons with intense vision loss. The bionic eye utilizes a retinal implant attached to a video camera to transform images into electrical signals. The electrical signals “activate the remaining retinal cells that then carry the signal back to the brain” (Watkins par. 1). A video camera is embedded in a pair of glasses to help in capturing and processing images. The camera sends the images to a bionic implant that is attached behind the eye. The implant activates latent optic nerves to produce points of light that facilitate the formation of images in the brain.

The whole bionic eye system operates on a battery pack that is found in the video processing unit. The camera records images in the form of black and white pixels. It then sends the images to the video processor that transforms the pixels into electrical vibrations. The vibrations are sent to a radio transmitter that is embedded in a pair of glasses. The lenses convert the vibrations into radio signals and send them to a receiver entrenched beneath the patient’s skin. The receiver is linked through a wire to the “electrode array implanted at the back of the eye” (Layton par. 1). The array works as the retina’s photoreceptors. For patients to interpret the images transmitted through the bionic eye, they have to undergo training.

Even though the bionic eye helps to restore sight to patients suffering from visual impairment, the system is not faultless. The bionic eye only helps a patient to regain fundamental abilities such as “walking on a sidewalk without stepping off a curb and distinguishing black from white socks” (Watkins par. 2). A person with a bionic eye cannot read small letters. Instead, the eye helps to read big words one at a time. As the retina continues to cure, the implant affects the quality of vision. With time, it becomes hard for the patient to see clearly. The modern bionic eye is known as Argus II and is designed to help individuals who lost their vision as a result of retinal pigments. However, scientists are in the process of developing a bionic eye that can assist patients suffering from macular degeneration.

In spite of the bionic eye being an extraordinary technology, it is worth noting that the equipment does not favor everyone. There are numerous misconceptions about the bionic eye. First, it is imperative to understand that the bionic eye is not an electronic substitute for the entire eye. Scientists have not yet discovered a device that can replace the eye. Instead, the bionic eye is a “three-part device that involves surgically implanting a small electronic gadget on the retina” (Watkins par. 2). A patient with a bionic eye requires a particular type of glasses that have a camera. Besides, the glasses must have a video processing unit. In short, a bionic eye comprises a pair of glasses, a camera and a video processing unit. Second, the bionic eye is “designed for individuals with limited vision because of severe retinitis pigmentosa” (Watkins par. 2). Nevertheless, the doctors should do a medical examination to find out if there are other health conditions that might impede the success of the implant. Patients should understand that a bionic eye does not guarantee the restoration of complete vision. Besides, the visual link between the retina and the brain has to be functional for the bionic eye to operate.

Recent Breakthroughs

The Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) has made significant breakthroughs in the development of the bionic eye. Previously, BVA relied on the subretinal prosthesis that was prone to retinal disconnection and infections. Today, BVA has come up with suprachoroidal implants that rely on the retinal system and bipolar cells. Suprachoroidal implants have enhanced visual capacity, therefore facilitating movements. Before the invention of suprachoroidal implants, the doctors could not restore sight for patients that we’re unable to see light (Ayton and Nayagam par. 2). Today, it is possible to restore vision to individuals that are unable to glimpse the light. Suprachoroidal implant facilitates electrode monitoring and neurostimulation without the aid of an implanted electronic. The implant enables patients to familiarize themselves in a room, distinguish essential shapes and stroll through mobility webs without difficulties.

On the other hand, the Japanese company NIDEK in collaboration with the Osaka University Group has invented an intrascleral prosthetic gadget to help persons with visual impairment. The device is implanted “in between the layers of the sclera rather than in the suprachoroidal space” (Ayton and Nayagam par. 4). The method has proved effective in patients suffering from advanced retinitis pigmentosa. It helps to boost visual sharpness and spatial resolution. Scientists have discovered that the higher the number of electrodes, the better the resolution. Consequently, they have embarked on the development of implants that can enhance spatial resolution and enlarge the field of view. Indeed, scientists are in the process of developing implants with smaller electrodes. The aim is to create a device that stimulates fewer retinal ganglion cells, thus enhancing spatial resolution.

Conclusion

Blindness is one of the most incapacitating sensory injuries that affect about 40 million people globally. A majority of visual impairments can be corrected through medicine or surgery. Nevertheless, there are impairments that are too complicated and cannot be corrected through surgery. Patients who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa have their photoreceptors damaged. No surgery can restore the damaged photoreceptors. In such a case, the patients use the bionic eye. The bionic eye is a visual prosthesis designed to help patients suffering from lost vision. It operates by revitalizing nerves that are stimulated by electrical impulses. The bionic eye requires three critical components to work. They are a camera, special pair of glasses and a video processing unit. Despite the bionic eye helping to restore the lost vision, the system is not flawless. It only contributes to restoring the necessary visual capacities. Moreover, a person with a bionic eye can only see big images. Scientists are in the process of developing prosthetic implants that can see smaller images. Currently, they have invented suprachoroidal implants that have improved spatial resolution. Besides, they are in the course of creating implants with smaller electrodes to enhance resolution.

Works Cited

Ayton, Lauren and David Nayagam. Behind the Eye 2014. Web.

Layton, Julia. How does a “Bionic Eye” Allow Blind People to See? 2007. Web.

Watkins, Denny. 10 Medical Breakthroughs That Sound Like Science Fiction 2014. Web.

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