New bionic eye is a huge leap forward for vision impaired

Karen O'Sullivan
New bionic eye is a huge leap forward for vision impaired

A remarkable Australian project that could one day allow blind people to see again, is about to take a huge leap forward.

For the first time, trials of the bionic eye are moving from the laboratory into the patients' home.

When Australia's bionic eye was first trialled, patients were confined to testing once a week at the eye and ear hospital, weighed down with a vision processor in a backpack.

Now a leaner, lighter and more efficient bionic eye is in production, patients will wear glasses with an implanted camera, minus the backpack.

Professor Anthony Burkitt explains: "Whereas this will all be shrunk down now to something the size of an iPod or mobile phone, something they can have in their pocket."

The new bionic eye will be trialled on 15 people who will wear the device in the real world.

Dr Penny Allen says: "There's going to be patients who use it everyday, you know being able to do things like sort your socks."

Dianne Ashworth was one of three blind people involved in the original trials.

"Minimising it and making it a lot smaller is going to be something that enables people to take home, whereas the bigger back pack was just too big."

In previous trials, patients saw spots of lights that formed shapes.

An increase in electrodes in the new implant from 22 to 44 will improve those images further.

"The smaller yet more effective bionic eye will provide trial participants with a wider field of vision, making it easier to navigate their way around the home and work places.

A recent federal government grant of $1.1 million for the Centre of Eye Research Australia has made it possible for the next phase of the bionic eye development.

Professor Burkitt: "We're very excited about this next phase. The increased number of electrodes and the smaller size, we really believe this will provide enormous benefit."

Plans are also underway for a separate bionic eye trial to help patients recognise faces and read large print.