Australian researchers have reached a milestone in their quest to build a bionic eye, with the development of a microchip to be inserted into the retina of vision-impaired patients.
The microchip, the engine of the implant, is tiny at only five square millimetres, and would be implanted into a patient’s eye. About 100 chips have just arrived in Melbourne for safety testing after being made in the United States.
”If it proves that it does everything that we think it does, then that would be suitable to go into our first patients,” said Bionic Vision Australia research director Anthony Burkitt.
The chip receives information, via radio frequency signals, of images captured by a camera mounted on the bridge of a pair of glasses. With 98 precisely-controlled stimulation channels, or wires, the microchip will give patients with severe vision loss the ability to distinguish light and dark shapes.
Researchers said the milestone was significant because of the microchip’s key role in the bionic eye.
”It does all of the processing that is necessary and then sends out all the electrical signals to the electrodes, which are the things that stimulate the neurons,” Professor Burkitt said.
Using animal models, the researchers said they have also developed a safe surgical technique for implantation. The first implant into a human is due at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 2013.
A professor of engineering at Melbourne University, Professor Burkitt said the microchip would be implanted at the back of the eye near the retina and the choroid layer, which is a series of blood vessels that carry oxygen to the eye.
”That’s actually a very stable area to put the electrode, which will remain there for the lifetime of the patient,” he said.
The Bionic Vision Australia consortium, including Melbourne University, the Centre for Eye Research Australia and the University of New South Wales, is one of two groups to share in a $50 million federal government grant to develop a functional bionic eye.
Bionic Vision Australia secured the lion’s share – $42 million – while the Monash University consortium got $8 million.
The two groups differ in their approach. Monash is working on an implant to stimulate the visual cortex within the brain, bypassing the eye.
Overseas researchers are also working on a bionic eye, with some at the human trial stage.http://updatednews.ca/2011/03/31/the-microchip-has-arrived-bionic-eye-a-step-closer/