Let There be Light: The Bionic Eye
“Black for the Blind is a fearlessly everlasting celebration; A color which even the greatest of warriors trembled to tread into; Whereas with them, it remained as rejoicingly during life, as after the final insinuations of breath.”– An Extract from the Poem “Black for the Blind “by Nikhil Parekh.
There is exciting news for those who are without eyesight. An Indian scientist, Dr. Vivek Chowdhary, along with Professor Minas Coreoneo of Sydney, Australia, have developed a device called the “Bionic Eye”. This has the promise of giving the gift of vision to blind people.
What is Human Vision?
Just as there are lens in cameras, there are lens in our eyes. This is what allows the human eye to see. These eye lens focus the image of an object on a light-sensitive layer in the back of our eye called the retina, a component of the brain. The retina acts as a medium to convert light into electrical signals and allow the brain to respond with appropriate electrical pulses. These electrical pulses pass through sensory nerves and motorways to reach the brain. Once there, they are further processed in different areas of the brain to give us the perception of vision. Blindness is the result of damage to these sensory nerves and motorways that connect the retina (the medium) to the brain (the destination).
How does the Bionic Eye Work?
The device known as the Bionic Eye consists of glasses mounted with a camera. This camera is attached to a stimulator (an electronic chip) on the retina, the optic nerve, or in the portion of the brain where perceptions of vision are produced. When light falls on this camera, it focuses the light onto the stimulator. The stimulator converts the light into electrical signals which then reach the appropriate section of the brain that is responsible for vision. The Bionic Eye is said to work best for blind persons who have functioning optic nerves, however.
Clinical Trials on Humans
Working with scientists from the Bionic Eye Foundation at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital, Chowdhary and Coreoneo have now launched human clinical trials of the Bionic Eye. Apparently, this device employs the same technology that is routinely used in cochlear implants that restore hearing. These trials involve placing small electrodes on the surface of the eye then using an electric current to stimulate the retina. The patients in these trials are seeing flashes of light only but it is enough to get a tearful response from the first successful patient who saw a single spot of light after years of darkness. This wonder device has definitely raised hope in the hearts of millions with the promise that “there will be light” soon.
The Extraocular Approach
At present there are 23 groups of researchers around the world racing to invent the first functional Bionic Eye. While others are working to create a device that would be implanted into the eye (intraocular) and attach to the retina, Coroneo and Chowdhury are working on a device that utilizes electrodes outside the eye (extraocular, that is). According to two ophthalmologists of the Australian Bionic Eye Foundation, this approach is safer, reversible, and will not threaten what little vision the subject already has.