First implant of electronic eye in Australia
4 September 2012
Researchers at Bionic Vision Australia have successfully
performed an implant of an early prototype electronic eye at the Royal
Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne.
The bionic eye was implanted in a woman who has profound vision
loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition. Ms Dianne
Ashworth received the ‘pre-bionic eye’ implant which was switched on
last month at the Bionics Institute.
Ms Ashworth reported experiencing some vision: “I didn’t know
what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash… it
was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different
shape that appeared in front of my eye,” she said.
The prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A
small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector
behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the
laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a
controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light.
Early bionic eye prototype - electrode array
(image courtesy of
Feedback from Ms Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a
vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light.
This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera, yet.
This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.
Director of Bionic Vision Australia, Professor Anthony Burkitt,
said: “This outcome is a strong example of what a multi-disciplinary
research team can achieve. Funding from the Australian Government
was critical in reaching this important milestone.”
Sally Capp, Agent General for Victoria in the UK said: “The
bionic eye implant is a stunning example of the many innovative
medical developments that are being produced by the Parkville
Precinct and the wider Victoria medical research community.
Director of the Bionics Institute, Professor Rob Shepherd, led
the team in designing, building and testing this early prototype to
ensure its safety and efficacy for human implantation. Cochlear
technology supported aspects of the project.
“We are working with Ms Ashworth to determine exactly what she
sees each time the retina is stimulated using a purpose built
laboratory at the Bionics Institute. The team is looking for
consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to
determine how the brain interprets this information. Having this
unique information will allow us to maximise our technology as it
evolves through 2013 and 2014,” he said.
Although the team claim this is a world first, German company
Retina Implant first implanted in human patients in 2005 and started
a second clinical trial in 2010. Its multi-centre trial has sites in
Germany, the UK, Hungary, Italy and the US. One of the first
patients was a teenager in Finland in 2010, and earlier this year
patients in the UK and China received implants.
Retina Implant’s subretinal approach to implantation involves
placing a 1500-electrode microchip just below the retina,
specifically in the macular region. Results of Retina Implant’s
first human clinical trial were published in Proceedings of the
Royal Society B and showed placement of the implant below the
retina, in the macular region, provided optimum visual results
allowing patients to recognize foreign objects and to read letters
to form words.
Post-implantation, the microchip is turned on — this is when the
evaluation of sight restoration begins. As patients must develop new
internal processes for interpreting the images they see, it
typically takes several weeks to fully realize their new sight