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Blind Manchester patients regain some sight in 'bionic eye' trial success

Eye surgeons at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital have hailed their revolutionary `'bionic eye' trial on three of their Manchester patients a success after each of them regained some sight as a result of their treatment, with one patient being able to identify letters on a computer monitor and read some short words.

The surgery was carried out by Mr Paulo E Stanga, a Consultant Ophthalmologist and Vitreoretinal Surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital and Reader in Ophthalmology at The University of Manchester and Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, and his team. This effort is part of a pioneering international trial of the artificial retina, which is intended to help some blind people regain a degree of vision.

The Manchester patients are three of only 32 people worldwide, under the care of 11 different consultants across the globe, to participate in the trial to date. These blind patients with the Argus II retinal prosthesis were presented with powerpoint large white letters on a black screen computer monitor. One of the Manchester patients, who became blind due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa - an inherited and degenerative disease of the retina - had an intraocular electronic retinal prosthesis fitted on 3rd June 2009. The patient, 51, had been blind for most of his adult life, but can now identify some of these large print-short words from a monitor.

Using ArgusTM II technology, developed by Second Sight® Medical Products, Inc. (Sylmar, CA, USA) the implant aims to restore a basic level of useful vision, in the form of spots of light and shades of light and dark, to people with very severe retinitis pigmentosa. The technology consists of a tiny camera and transmitter mounted in a pair of glasses. This camera transmits a wireless signal via a small processing device to an ultra-thin electronic receiver, an electrode panel that is implanted in the eye and attached to the retina. The electrodes are intended to stimulate the remaining retinal nerves, allowing a signal to be passed along the optic nerve to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to which electrodes are stimulated.

"The patients are progressing much faster than we at first thought," says Manchester Principal Investigator Mr Stanga. "In fact, another one of the trial subjects told me in clinic today that he saw the fireworks on bonfire night for the first time in 41 years. This may not sound much to you or I, but for him it must have been a very moving experience. "Another patient has been able to read some short words, but by no means we are implying that this prosthesis provides 'reading vision'. A lot of work still needs to be carried out, but this is certainly a step forward in the right direction, and very encouraging for both the patient and the scientific community."He also said that the third patient in the trial is also experiencing limited letter recognition. These results, combined with those of the other 29 patients, have made for a successful trial.

The international trial is not currently recruiting subjects for this study. However, when recruitment resumes, to be eligible patients must meet the following inclusion criteria:

  • Be aged 18 years or older at the date of enrolment.
  • Have a confirmed history of retinitis pigmentosa.
  • Have a visual acuity of logMAR 2.3 or worse in both eyes.
  • Have a functional optic nerve.
  • Have a memory of former useful form vision in the worse-seeing eye.
  • Understand and accept the obligation to attend all scheduled follow-up visits.

GPs and other professionals can get more details about referring patients to the trial from Kate Barugh on 0161 276 5615 or kate.barugh@cmft.nhs.uk.

Further information about retinitis pigmentosa is available from the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society at www.brps.org.uk.