Life through an implanted eye

An animated video captures how the world looks to a patient with a new bionic eye

01 Nov 2016 by Olivia Wannan

Everyone can experience the world through the eyes of a patient as he loses his vision to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and as he learns to ‘see’ again with a retinal implant, thanks to a new video.

The video, produced by Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust artist-in-residence Lucy Burscough, tells the story of Ray Flynn, who was implanted with the Argus II bionic eye system in June 2015.

When his retinal implant was switched on, Mr Flynn became the first person in the world to experience artificial and natural vision simultaneously. The Argus II offers some functional vision in his degenerated macula region, alongside his remaining peripheral vision.

Ms Burscough told OT that she enjoyed learning about the biomedical technology and the potential it could play in people’s lives, during the project funded by the Arts Council England’s National Lottery Grants for the Arts programme.

“This work has been inspired by the remarkable, cutting-edge technologies that hint at a future of biomedical bionics and the hacking of humanity,” she explained, adding: “The video has become this rallying cry too, for people to get involved in clinical trials.”

Ms Burscough was pleased to get to know Mr Flynn during the project, she highlighted, continuing: “He was really courageous, with his openness and willingness to go ahead and actually become involved – and have this positive attitude. He was really altruistic about it.”

Through her wider work in hospitals, Ms Burscough has realised that people with chronic diseases and conditions, like Mr Flynn, understand how much newly diagnosed patients desire an understanding of what they will go through.

Ms Burscough believes that art can play a role in this critical communication. “It’s notoriously tricky for people to get a take on perception. It would be fantastic to engage as many optometrists and clinicians as possible to consider art as a means to speak to people about vision.”

She hoped that the stop-frame animated film, titled Ocular Bionica, would help patients with AMD and retinitis pigmentosa – or anyone – understand retinal implants a little better.

However, she explained that: “This is an artistic representation of his words, and can never be more than an artistic representation.”

Ms Burscough recorded Mr Flynn’s story and used this recording to narrate the film. “It’s really nice to have the patient’s voice quite literally being the soundtrack,” she emphasised.

Mr Flynn’s doctor, consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon, Professor Paulo Stanga, said that: “On a personal level, this is a very moving as well as an exciting experience, to literally see through Mr Flynn’s eyes and experience the real visual benefits he has gained from his artificial vision.”

Professor Stanga led the trust’s clinical trial of bionic eyes for patients with AMD.

The 81-year-old patient himself also expressed his enjoyment at having his story told. “I was delighted to be asked to take part in the film…Art’s an excellent way of explaining medicine and research, and I’m looking forward to seeing the film for the first time,” Mr Flynn said.

For more information about Professor Stanga’s research, visit the NHS trust website.

Image credit: Lucy Burscough


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