Bionic eyes on the NHS

Ten patients will receive retinal implant surgeries as part of an NHS evaluation

Bionic eye procedure performed on 18 in France

The Argus II bionic eye will be put through its paces in an NHS England trial to evaluate the promise of the therapy, with 10 patients with retinitis pigmentosa set to receive the implant.

The procedures will take place at Moorfields Eye Hospital and Manchester Royal Eye Hospital in 2017, and will be funded through NHS England’s ‘Commissioning through evaluation’ scheme.

The device, developed by Second Sight, has been implanted in a number of UK patients with ocular conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.

The system captures visual information in a spectacles-mounted camera, which wirelessly sends signals to the retinal implant that stimulates the optic nerve cells. Patients ‘see’ this stimulation as flashes of light.

The trial will allow NHS England to gauge how the retinal implant system enables patients to function with everyday tasks. This new data will inform NHS England’s future commissioning decisions.

John Thomas, the first European patient to receive the device, emphasised how privileged he felt to have been involved in the development of the Argus II.

He highlighted that: “Throughout my adult life I experienced progressively diminishing peripheral vision, though fortunately I still had some useful vision until I was 60. And while I’ve led a very fulfilling life – as a university teacher, working for the BBC and as a consultant and trainer in distance education – I took part in the trial mainly to help future generations living with retinitis pigmentosa.

“This research has to start somewhere and with someone, and I hope that I may have made a difference to someone’s life by playing a small part in such a pioneering project,” Mr Thomas concluded.

Manchester Royal Eye Hospital vitreoretinal surgeon, Professor Paulo Stanga, is a long-time champion of the technology. He first implanted the Argus II into a patient in 2009, as part of Second Sight’s worldwide clinical trials.

He emphasised that: “I’m delighted that our pioneering research has provided the evidence to support NHS England’s decision to fund the bionic eye for the first time for patients. 

“It surpassed all of our expectations when we realised that one of the retinitis pigmentosa patients in Manchester using the bionic eye could identify large letters for the first time in his adult life,” Professor Stanga reiterated.

Image credit: Second Sight