Doctors have given a man his sight back, implanting a bionic eye in Texan resident John Jameson to restore some of his vision after some 40 years of blindness.
Four decades ago, an aggressive infection took Jameson’s sight, and it was his wife who discovered the possibility of installing a bionic eye – a type of operation that has only recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US.
Jameson admits he’s been suffering from some double vision since the procedure, which was carried out last month in Shreveport, Louisiana, but adds that his sight is improving all the time as his brain adjusts. “When I wake up in the morning, I love to see nature waking up,” Jameson told Alexandra Hart at The Texas Standard.
“When you’re a kid, you’d wake up for Christmas morning, and you’d walk down and see the tree lights and the gifts and everything – the joy you get when that happens,” he added. “And now that’s been happening to me for every day, because every day I wake up I can see more and more.”
These types of operations are still relatively rare, though the first FDA-approved one was carried out back in 2014. That procedure used an Argus II artificial retina – a sheet of electrodes fixed to the eye that works with a special pair of glasses to translate the outside world into an image that can be beamed to the retina.
The Argus II doesn’t offer normal vision, but rather visual patterns made up of flashes of light – which is enough to distinguish outlines and shapes, reports Fergus Walsh at the BBC. It’s unclear at this time which technology was used in Jameson’s case, as the doctors involved don’t appear to have shared that information as yet – although given the similar operations that have occurred in the past, it’s likely to be the FDA-approved Argus II used in this instance.
The Argus II is designed to tackle advanced retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that damages the light-sensitive cells lining the retina. These cells would usually handle the job of sending light rays through the optic nerve to the brain in the form of electrical impulses.
To be eligible for an Argus II implant, patients must be over the age of 25 (so the eyes have fully formed), previously had functional vision, and be so visually impaired that the device would lead to a significant improvement. Further down the line, the inventors of the bionic eye – California-based company Second Sight Medical Products – hope it can be used to treat a wider range of vision defects.
“This is just the beginning,” the National Eye Institute’s Grace Shen told The New York Times back in 2013. “We have a lot of exciting things sitting in the wings.”
We’ll have to wait and see how Jameson’s vision progresses with his new implant in place, and hopefully we’ll hear more details about the procedure in the near future. In any case, it’s amazing to think that this kind of technology can improve people’s lives in such fundamental ways – helping to restore a sense they haven’t been able to use in decades.