Something amazing happened while you weren’t looking, however there is a man in Minnesota, Allen Zderad, who saw it all perfectly for the first time in 45 years. Thanks to the bionic eye, a handful of people across the globe are seeing loved ones for the first time.
Zderad received the transplant after 20 years of suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, which caused him to lose his sight for two decades and can eventually lead to complete blindness.
The very first bionic eye transplant for macular degeneration occurred in Ray Flynn, an 80-year-old man from Audenshaw, early this year. Flynn had lost his central vision because of Macular Degeneration, and after years of blindness, a four-hour procedure at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital restored his sight with the bionic eye—the Argus II. Most transplants are performed on patients with retinitis pigmentosa. Flynn was the very first patient to receive the transplant for Macular Degeneration.
Macular Degeneration (AMD) affects more than 20 million people worldwide. In the US alone, more than 3 million Americans over the age of 40 are either legally blind or have low vision. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports the most common age-related eye diseases in the US include macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetes complications. AMD alone affects nearly 2 million Americans, and the number is expected to reach almost 3 million by the year 2020. The CDC reports over 7 million people with large drusen – yellow or white deposits under the retina – are at a higher risk for AMD.
In 2013, the FDA approved the Second Sight Argus device for people with such devastating degenerative eye diseases. The Second Sight Argus II, or bionic eye, is a device that looks similar to a pair of safety glasses. On the front of the glasses is a camera. When the camera captures an image, the device converts the image(s) into electrical pulses. The pulses are sent wirelessly to electrodes that are attached to the retina. The information is sent to the brain via the remaining electrodes that have been stimulated by the electrodes.
After about two weeks, patients can detect patterns on a computer screen with help from the transplant. The device does not restore sight completely, but it can allow the wearer to see light, helping the patient identify contours and outlines of people and things. Zderad, the Minnesota patient, reports a flash, not a constant vision of sight. The pixelated view allows patients to interpret what they are seeing, which helps them get around better and see the world around them again.
Only about 100 patients in the world have received the transplant. It comes with a hefty price tag of more than $150,000. However, as more institutions receive the okay to perform trial implants, participants may receive the device for free.