The NHS is to pay for 10 people to be implanted with a “bionic eye”, a pioneering technology that can restore some sight to those who have been blind for years.
Only a handful of people have undergone surgery in trials so far to equip them to use Argus II, which employs a camera mounted in a pair of glasses and a tiny computer to relay signals directly to the nerves controlling sight.
The decision to fund the first 10 NHS patients to be given the bionic eye could pave the way for the life-changing technology to enter the mainstream.
Those who will get the equipment can currently see nothing more than the difference between daylight and darkness. The system allows the brain to decode flashes of light, so that they can learn to see movement.
The NHS will fund the first 10 patients during 2017 to have surgery at Manchester and at Moorfields Eye hospital in London. All will be carefully followed, to gather data on their progress and assess how much the bionic eye improves their daily lives. If the results are good, more patients are likely to receive the treatment in the future.
There are an estimated 16,000 people with retinitis pigmentosa in the UK. The disease causes cells in the retina gradually to stop working and eventually die. About a tenth can no longer see to count the fingers on a hand. Between 160 and 320 are thought to be eligible for a bionic eye operation. The numbers with age-related macular degeneration, however, are far higher – it is the commonest cause of blindness or severe vision loss. The ‘bionic eye’ treatment, including surgery, follow-up, equipment and rehabilitation, costs £150,000.
How The Bionic Eye Works