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National investment in the bionic eye takes it from the lab to the real world

National investment in the bionic eye takes it from the lab to the real world

A prototype bionic eye device

Researchers working on the ‘bionic eye’ at the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) have received a major funding boost thanks to a significant $1.2 million grant from the Australian Government’s National Medical and Research Council (NHMRC).

The project will now move outside the lab and into the lives of patients with the aim of using the bionic eye to restore vision to patients who have become blind as the result of eye disease, particularly retinitis pigmentosa.

In 2012, three Melbourne patients received the first bionic eye implants with all three able to perceive phosphenes, or spots of light, when their devices were turned on.

The funding announced last week will enable a select group of patients to take the bionic eye home for the first time and report back on what they see.

Lead researcher, vitreo-retinal surgeon, Dr Penny Allen, said road testing the bionic eye in the home environment will put it to practical use and kick off an exciting new research phase.

“The NHMRC grant will allow us to test a fully-implantable device, which will include a patient-worn vision processor for use at home,” Dr Allen said.

“Patients selected will wear glasses with an inbuilt camera that transmits images to the vision processor, which passes signals to the implant, stimulates the retina, and passes the images into the brain’s image processing centre allowing a vision impaired person to see.

“With the funding we can monitor patients, track their progress and see how the device handles in the outside world. The next step is crucial because we’re dealing with environmental factors that are hard to replicate in the lab and the information we gather will help to refine the devices for everyday use.”

Director of Bionic Vision Australia, Professor Anthony Burkitt, said the funding is a significant investment in one of the most important research projects in Australia.

“I am delighted the NHMRC has decided to fund the further safety and efficacy testing of the bionic eye in patients over the next three years,” Professor Burkitt said.

“This NHMRC funding will enable a fully implanted version of the device with an increased number of electrodes to be tested in patients, bringing us one step closer to restoring vision to people with profound vision loss. With this funding we can now see the device becoming available to patients through commercialisation in the not too distant future.”

CERA closely collaborates with the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and the Bionics Institute, National Information Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) and the Universities of Melbourne and New South Wales in the Bionic Vision Australia consortium.

For more information visit Bionic Vision Australia.

A story on the NHMRC funding for the bionic eye was featured on Channel Seven News.