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Bionic eye restores sight in the blind, approved for European market

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The race for developing the first bionic eye system heats it's slated to be the most important medical advance in our lifetime. Here's a look at why the technology can help restore sight in a select group of patients.

Eric Selby likes his bionic eye. When the glasses are on his face, he can see. Sort of.

He can only see shapes in white, grey and black. But Selby is one of the first in the world to have an implant in his right eye. So how does he feel about his artificial retina?

But Selby told his local newspaper: “This might not be a life-changing experience for me but if it can help kids in the future then I think it’s worth it.” Selby travels to London frequently to participate in the clinical trial he enrolled in.

The company behind the bionic eye, California-based Second Sight, got a green light to bring its retinal prosthesis treatment to the European Market.

The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System takes in video images from a camera.

It's easy to wear, the patient's glasses are made with an attached camera. The signals are then transmitted via pulses sent to the implant in the eye, where the signal is read by the retina's working cells.

Now, the vision isn't 20/20 or anything, but images in the form of shapes and light/dark can be sent from the chip to the brain's optic nerve thanks to 60 electrodes that pick up some differences.

According to the company, the 30 blind patients participating in the implant study could see "large letters, locate the position of objects and the best could read short words."

In case you are still wondering how the system works, the BBC described how the bionic eye system worked for patients at one of ten clinical trial locations around the world. Okay, so what about FDA approval? Well, that's still pending.

For now, this bionic eye can only help people with retinitis pigmentosa. That's a start for the field of synthetic the blind a chance to see again. Perhaps, this bionic eye system will offer long-term solutions for patients with other types of advanced retinal degenerative diseases in the future.

Unfortunately, the whole system isn't cheap though, according to The Australian. The implant, glasses, camera and battery will set a patient back $100,000... and the surgery could cost as much as $15,000.

Other companies in the space include German-based Retina Implant and Bionic Vision Australia.

A Bionic Eye Comes to Market [Technology Review]

Video: Bionic eye gives partial sight to blind [CBS]

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech,, and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure