Second Sight's First Bionic Eye for U.S. Market Awaits Approval From FDA

Published: Jan 29, 2013

The retina is the back part of your eye with the cells that respond to light. The cells are known as photo receptors and come in two varieties: rods and cones. Rods are very sensitive to light, shapes and movements and cones are not as sensitive, but they control the perception of color. Like a digital camera, the retina does basic optical processing like edge detection and enhancement and color separation. It transmits images through the optical nerve and then your brain returns the inverted image to its correct right side up. People with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), can’t do that. RP is an inherited eye disease – it causes retinal degeneration which means a gradual decline in vision and eventually blindness. It’s also considered an orphan disease which means not enough people have it to warrant a bevy of researchers, scientists and pharmaceutical lobbyists to devote entire and massive budgets to its cure. Last week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) was supposed to approve Second Sight’s Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System, for use in the United States. If the approval comes, it will signal more than 20 years of work in the field, two clinical trials, more than $100M in public investment by the National Eye Institute, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation, and an additional $100M in private investments. Not to mention it will be the first bionic eye available in the US Market. The Argus II was approved with the CE mark for use in Europe in 2011 and the Retinal Prosthesis system is the first prosthesis of its kind in the world. Think part Six Million Dollar Man where the tech was all in Steve Austin‘s eye and part Geordi La Forge from Star Trek, where the “glasses” helped him see, the Argus II takes us farther down the road of using bio-electronics and understanding how our body works and uses electronic pulses. In the case of the Argus II, the bionic eye or more accurately, the artificial retina, will turn darkness into light through a system comprised of electronics in the eye and wearable technology which wirelessly transmits a signal to the implant in the eye that lets the patient see again.

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