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Sep 2012

Prosthetic prototype is the first step towards proving the viability of more advanced implants.

An Australian woman has partially regained her sight thanks to a prototype bionic eye scientists have developed.
Dianne Ashworth had severe vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, but thanks to a bionic eye transplant in May at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, she was able to see different shapes.

"All of a sudden I could see a little flash... it was amazing," Ashworth, who is 54 years old, said in a statement. "Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye."

The bionic eye is only able to give patients mild vision, such as being able to see contrasts and edges like light and dark objects.

Bionic Vision Australia developed the bionic eye, which is equipped with 24 electrodes with a small wire that extends from the back of the eye, to a receptor attached behind the ear.

David Penington, from Bionic Vision Australia, said he believes one day the eye would eventually enable "useful vision."

"Much still needs to be done in using the current implant to ?reg;build' images for Ms Ashworth," he said in a statement. "The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices."

The eye will eventually result in black-and-white images, and will allow patients to move independently.

The researchers have already created a prosthetic device that has successfully restored near-normal vision in blind mice.

The surgeon who led the transplant team, Dr. Perry Allen, said the bionic eye implantation is the world's first. She said the procedure for implanting the eye is simple, and can be taught to surgeons worldwide. "We implanted the device in a position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach."

"The device electrically stimulates the retina," Allen told Thuy Ong of Reuters. "Electrical impulses are passed through the device, which then stimulate the retina. Those impulses then pass back to the brain (creating the image)."

"We didn't want to have a device that was too complex in a surgical approach that was very difficult to learn. What we're going to be doing is restoring a type of vision which is probably going to be black and white, but what we're hoping to do for these patients who are severely visually impaired is to give them mobility."

The World Health Organization says that 39 million people around the world are blind, and 246 million have low vision.

Ashworth is the first of three patients who will be testing out the implant. The other two patients have had the device installed, and are recovering from surgery.

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