The Future Is Bionic: New Device Connected To The Brain Restores Sight To The Blind

Being blind or having visual impairment doesn’t necessarily mean you have to remain without sight anymore. Over the last couple of years there’s been a multitude of concepts proven to be successful. Even growing new cells altogether by manipulating genes could very well be a treatment of the near future.

However, researcher and companies alike love to ‘augment’ our world these days and many of them invent devices that could solve many clinical problems as a ‘by-product’.

One company called Second Sight has been innovating on this field for quite some time and is now inching closer to bringing another device to the public with vision impairment.

They already patented a Epiretinal Prosthesis, which basically can be implanted on top of the retina. Now they announced that their current ongoing development of a Cortical Prosthesis is producing first results, too. According to Second Sight they were able to implant and activate a so called ‘Wireless Visual Cortical Stimulator’ in a human subject for the very first time.

President and CEO at Second Sight, Will McGuire, says, “We believe this technology will ultimately provide a useful form of vision for the nearly six million people worldwide who are blind but not a candidate for an [regular] Argus II retinal prosthesis.”

The new device is going by the fancy name of Orion I and has been supported in a trial by UCLA. What it does is to perform a wireless multichannel neurostimulation that’s been implanted to a 30 year old patient’s visual cortex.

The patient was able to perceive and localize individual phosphenes — spots of light — without any significant side effects. In other words, the blind patient was able to see.

The Argus II, Second Sight’s FDA-approved visual prosthetic. Credit: Second Sight

Second Sight’s existing visual prosthetic, the aforementioned Argus II, that has been implanted on top of retina, was only able to work with remaining usable retinal cells of the eye itself. The Orion I is seeking to bypass the eye by directly stimulating the visual cortex of the patient.

Now it’s only a matter of time until Second Sight gets the application approved by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration). The next logical step comes in early 2017 when the company starts to conduct their initial clinical trials for the device.

Dr. Robert Greenberg, Chairman of the Board of Second Sight, told the press and investors,

“It is rare that technological development offers such stirring possibilities. This first human test confirms that we are on the right track with our Orion I program to treat blind patients who cannot benefit from the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis (Argus II). This initial success in a patient is an exciting and important milestone even though it does not yet include a camera.
By bypassing the optic nerve and directly stimulating the visual cortex, the Orion I has the potential to restore useful vision to patients completely blinded due to virtually any reason, including glaucoma, cancer, diabetic retinopathy, or trauma. Today these individuals have no available therapy and the Orion I offers hope, increasing independence and improving their quality of life.”

So far so good — let’s hope that Second Sight is able to carry on tests with a smooth and fast transition to clinical studies approved by the FDA, which is known for stringent tests themselves.

The future however, that’s clear to see for all of us, becomes excitingly bionic.

This article was originally published on pionic.