Human beings have been attempting to create technology that can provide those with poor sight with an opportunity to see clearly for hundreds of years. From the first pair of eyeglasses invented in 1285 to the first contact lenses in 1887 to the invention of LASIK eye surgery less than 50 years ago, the journey to correct poor eyesight has been a long one. Still, each solution has proven to be more and more effective. But what about those whose vision is beyond the help of eyeglasses, contacts, or surgery?
Those with low vision or total blindness did not have a viable solution for their visual impairment until the very recent invention of bionic eye implants. They may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but they’re a real thing. Although the technology is in its early stages, these implants have shown to be incredibly promising.
To get a better idea of what bionic eye implants are, how they work, and how they may be able to eliminate visual impairment someday, take a look at this quick and easy guide for all you need to know.
What Is a Bionic Eye?
A bionic eye is an implant designed to perform the same functions as a retina. The retina is the part of the eye containing all of the nerve cells that receive visual information, organize it, and send it to the brain to create sight. A bionic eye implant is typically placed in an eye where the retina does not function properly to provide vision to patients with severe eyesight loss.
The technology behind bionic eyes is still in its infancy. As of right now, it can only provide limited sight to those suffering from certain forms of severe visual impairment. Still, it is believed that bionic eyes can someday do for the visually impaired what cochlear implants do for the hearing impaired.
How Do Bionic Eyes Work?
Bionic eye implants work by taking images from a video camera on a pair of special glasses and converting them into electrical impulses. Those impulses are sent to the retinal implant wirelessly, where they are then sent to the optic nerve. From the optic nerve, the brain processes the information into sight.
The viewer sees not a perfect image but rather basic visual information, such as shapes, movement, light, and the approximate location of objects. It is believed that this is because the number of electrodes in current bionic eyes is 60, and it would take about a million electrodes to recreate normal vision.
Do They Really Work?
As previously stated, the technology behind bionic eyes is still new, and it comes with various limitations. On top of the limited visual information they can provide, bionic eyes are also unable to produce color. They currently require patients to have a developed visual cortex and working optic nerve, so those born blind cannot benefit from them yet. However, the things that bionic eyes do provide can be life-changing: users have reported being able to read large print books and cross the street on their own, thanks to their implants.
In light of this information, it’s safe to say that bionic eye implants certainly do work to better the lives of the severely visually impaired, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
How Much Do They Cost?
As with many different cutting-edge technologies, bionic eye implants are prohibitively expensive. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, one of only three different types of the bionic eye, is believed to cost somewhere around $150,000. However, there is a chance that your medical insurance covers the bionic eye implant.
Who Can Bionic Implants Help?
Because it is necessary to have a developed visual cortex and a healthy optic nerve for them to work, bionic eye implants are only valuable for people with certain severe visual impairment, such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, a rare degenerative eye disease.
The future for bionic eye implants is an exciting one. A bionic eye device known as the Orion is currently in development purported to offer “useful artificial vision” to sufferers of several different conditions that cause severe visual impairment or even total blindness. This device will bypass the eye entirely and create sight through a series of electrodes implanted directly on the brain’s visual cortex.
Even that considerable advancement will likely only be the tip of the iceberg in developing bionic eye implants, which should be incredibly encouraging to those who have a severe visual impairment or total blindness.