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Australian gets the world’s first prototype bionic eye

By Kim Young-won

Published : Sept. 6, 2012 - 19:53

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SYDNEY ― An Australian woman robbed of her sight 30 years ago told Thursday how she saw a “little flash of light” after being implanted with the world’s first prototype bionic eye.

Dianne Ashworth, 54, went blind through an inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa but had some vision after the device was surgically implanted in a Melbourne hospital and connected up to a laboratory unit.

“All of a sudden I could see a little flash ... it was amazing,” Ashworth said in a statement from the Bionic Vision Australia research project. “Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye.”

The retinal implant has 24 electrodes that send impulses to nerve cells in the eye ― electrical impulses that occur naturally in those with normal vision.

In the prototype, a wire from the back of the eye connects with a receptor behind the ear. The receptor is plugged into a laboratory unit, which researchers use to control the information sent to the eye, allowing them to study how the brain reacts.

“This is a world first,” surgeon Penny Allen said. “We implanted a device in this position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach.”

Team leader David Penington said the results were better than they had expected, inspiring confidence that “useful vision” would come with a fully developed bionic eye.

“Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to build images for Ms Ashworth,” he said. “The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices.”

A complete device would have a vision processor that builds images using flashes of light. It would also have an external camera.

Future prototypes would have more than 1,000 electrodes so “useful vision” could be achieved.

By Sid Astbury

(dpa)

(MCT Information Services)