MELBOURNE, Australia, Nov. 13, 2008 -- A consortium of Australian research institutes aims to develop the world's most technologically advanced bionic eye. The goal of the Bionic Vision Australia program announced Wednesday is to have, by 2012, the first advanced protoype of an implant that can improve the sight of blind and sight-impaired people.
Bionic Vision Australia's members include the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, the Bionic Ear Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia and the Victoria Research Laboratory of NICTA. The partnership "brings together Australia's international experts in medical bionics, covering the many disciplines required to develop a safe and technologically advanced device able to restore functional vision," said Bionic Vision Australia Chairman and University of Melbourne professor emeritus David Penington.
An outline of how Bionic Vision Australia's bionic eye is proposed to work. A video camera (on the glasses frame) will capture and process the images and these images will be sent wirelessly to a bionic implant. The implant then stimulates dormant optic nerves to generate "phosphenes" that form the basis of images in the brain. (Image: Bionic Ear Institute)
"Our team is well placed to undertake the critical research required to deliver an advanced bionic eye, which would deliver improved quality of life for patients suffering from common causes of severe loss of vision and blindness," he said.
Over 50,000 Australians have severe to profound vision loss. The major cause of severe vision impairment is degeneration or death of the cells in the eye that receive light signals. A bionic eye will assist in restoring patient mobility, independence and quality of life by effectively replacing the function of damaged light-sensing cells in the eye.
While the clarity and definition of vision will not be equal to normal sight, the device will allow patients to move around, detect large objects and, in time, read text and recognise faces and emotions. Bionic Vision Australia has submitted a detailed plan and funding request to the Australian Government to enable it to undertake the required research and early clinical testing.
The New South Wales and Victoria governments have both provided support to the partnership to enable the development of the detailed plan. The proposal follows an 18-month feasibility study undertaken by members of the consortium and heightened public interest in the bionic eye, most notably at the recent Australia 2020 Summit where it was flagged as a "big idea" worthy of consideration for Australia to pursue.
Bionic Vision Australia proposes to have its first advanced prototype ready for the first human implant by early 2012 that delivers significant benefits to patients with severe mobility and light perception difficulties.
A depiction of how the bionic eye could improve vision in the sight-impaired and the blind. (Image: Bionic Vision Australia)
This device is the result of research undertaken over a 10-year period by the Australian Vision Prosthesis Group at the University of New South Wales. An enhanced second prototype developed at the Victoria Research Laboratory of NICTA could be available for the first human implant by late 2013 and would provide further improved quality of life for patients where image perception is the primary consideration.
"This is an exciting opportunity for Australia to reinforce its leadership in medical bionics, first demonstrated with the development in Melbourne of the bionic ear in the 1970s," said professor Anthony Burkitt, research director of Bionic Vision Australia and chair of the department of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Melbourne.
"BVA is inspired by the bionic ear experience to build a world-class multidisciplinary team capable of restoring functional vision to sufferers of inherited and degenerative retinal diseases and thereby make a contribution to addressing the significant cost this disease imposes on the Australian and other economies. The implications for improved health are significant," he said.
For more information, visit: www.bionicvision.org.au
- The inability to perceive visual images (visible radiant energy). In human beings, blindness is defined as a visual acuity of less than one-tenth normal vision.
- The organ of vision or light sensitivity.
- The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
- 1. The photosensitive membrane on the inside of the human eye. 2. A scanning mechanism in optical character generation.
- The processes in which luminous energy incident on the eye is perceived and evaluated.
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