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Human Achievement of the Day: Bionic Eyes

You won’t see the glory of human achievement if you abide by the World Wide Fund for Nature's recommendation that you spend an hour in the dark this Saturday night to allegedly "show your commitment to a better future." Rather than take that anti-technology approach, why not leave the lights on and celebrate human achievement, including a new invention that will help even blind people see?

Once only imagined in the 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man or the 1990s Star Trek: The Next Generation, 2013 saw the introduction of real bionic eyes! Created by Second Sight Medical Products Inc., of Sylmar, Calif., the Argus II Retinal Implant involves placing an implant in a person’s eye that connects wirelessly to eye glasses equipped with a tiny camera, which transmits images through the optic nerve to the brain.

The device helps those individuals affected with an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, which strikes first as night blindness and then can degenerate photoreceptor cells eventually causing total blindness. It is not yet designed to help those with glaucoma and some other forms of blindness.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the device in February 2013 for use in the United States, and the first FDA-approved implants began this year. Those in the experimental program testified at FDA pre-approval hearings, expressing great joy about what the device had done for them. One exclaimed: "I don't mind telling you how much -- I mean, how happy that made me, not only to see the silhouette of my son, but to hear that voice coming and saying, 'Yeah, it's me, Dad. I'm here and I love you.'"

Right now, the patients mostly see lights and shadows that enable them to navigate their way around a room or down a sidewalk, but some have even been able to read large letters. And it's likely that technological developments will lead to even better vision in the future.

Dr. Robert Greenberg, president and CEO of Second Sight Medical Products, explained that improvements in color and sharper imagery are in the works. "We expect to be producing software upgrades for all the implanted patients." and "We are also working on more advanced implants," he has explained.

Approved in Europe since 2011, FDA issued its approval last February and it is limited. The agency noted in its press release:

The FDA approved the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System as a humanitarian use device, an approval pathway limited to those devices that treat or diagnose fewer than 4,000 people in the United States each year. To obtain approval for humanitarian use, a company must demonstrate a reasonable assurance that the device is safe and that its probable benefit outweighs the risk of illness or injury. The company also must show that there is no comparable device available to treat or diagnose the disease or condition.

While the Argus may be the only FDA approved device to address blindness, other, similar technologies are also under development. Think how much further and how much faster such life enhancing technologies could progress, if only government would step aside and let it happen.

About Human Achievement Hour (HAH): Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that allow people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people. Human Achievement Hour is the counter argument to Earth Hour, and promotes looking to technology and innovation to help solve environmental problems instead of reverting to the “dark ages,” by symbolically refusing to use electricity for an hour.