19 Sept 2016

Visual prostheses are moving from idea to reality

What can bionic eyes see? Image: SPIE
Since the 1950s, vision researchers have been working towards the ambitious goal of restoring a functional level of vision to the blind via electrical stimulation of the visual pathways. Groups based in Australia, USA, Germany, France and Japan report progress in the translation of retinal visual prosthetics from the experimental to clinical domains, with two retinal visual prostheses having recently received regulatory approval for clinical use.

Regulatory approval for cortical visual prostheses is yet to be obtained. However, several groups report plans to conduct clinical trials in the near future, building upon the seminal clinical studies of Brindley and Dobelle. In this review, the authors discuss the general principles of visual prostheses employing electrical stimulation of the visual pathways, focusing on the retina and visual cortex as the two most extensively studied stimulation sites. They also discuss the surgical and functional outcomes reported to date for retinal and cortical prostheses, concluding with a brief discussion of novel developments in this field and an outlook for the future.

Lewis, P.M., Ayton, L.N., Guymer, R.H., Lowery, A.J., Blamey, P.J., Allen, P.J., Luu, C.D., Rosenfeld, J.V. Advances in implantable bionic devices for blindness: a review.  ANZ Journal of Surgery, 2016, 86(9) pp.654-659.

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