Blind patients in Manchester join global trial of 'bionic eye'

Manchester eye specialists have implanted an artificial retina or 'bionic eye' in two patients who became blind due to advanced retinitis pigmentosa – an inherited and degenerative disease of the retina.

The surgery was carried out by a team led by Paulo Stanga, Reader in Ophthalmology at The University of Manchester and consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.

The pioneering procedure is part of an international trial of the intraocular electronic retinal prosthesis, which is intended to help some blind people regain a degree of vision. The Manchester patients are two of only 25 people worldwide to participate in the trial to date.

Using ArgusTM II technology, developed by Second Sight® Medical Products, Inc. (Sylmar, CA, USA) the implant aims to restore a basic level of useful vision in the form of spots of light and shades of light and dark to people with very severe retinitis pigmentosa. 

The technology consists of a tiny camera and transmitter mounted in a pair of glasses. This camera transmits a wireless signal via a small processing device to an ultra-thin electronic receiver, an electrode panel that is implanted in the eye and attached to the retina. The electrodes are intended to stimulate the remaining retinal nerves, allowing a signal to be passed along the optic nerve to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to which electrodes are stimulated.

“We are very encouraged by the trial’s results so far,” said Mr Stanga, who is based in the School of Clinical and Laboratory Sciences and part of the National Institute for Health Research Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

“The 'bionic eye' operations went exactly according to plan and both patients are doing well, although it will be several months before the functional outcome is fully known. We hope the implant will improve each patient’s orientation and mobility, spatial localisation, and motion detection, perhaps giving these patients navigational vision in familiar and unfamiliar environments.

“The trial remains inspiring in terms of presenting a very real and tangible step forward in treating people with total vision loss. These are early days and continued testing will be crucial in determining the success of the new technology."

Extensive testing is just beginning on the two Manchester patients as the implant and video camera link are turned on to try and optimise retinal stimulation. Manchester Royal Eye Hospital is also recruiting new subjects to the trial. 


Notes for editors

About the trial

  • The Manchester Royal Eye Hospital trial is part of an international phase I clinical study, comprising feasibility studies in the United States, Europe and Mexico. Preliminary results were presented in October 2008 at the American Society of Retinal Specialists (ASRS) annual meeting in Hawaii. 
  • A total of 25 people worldwide have been involved so far, two of whom received their treatment at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, part of the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Mr Stanga's team includes clinical staff from the Trust and researchers from The University of Manchester and Manchester Biomedical Research Centre.
  • The Manchester Royal Eye Hospital trial is open only to subjects with complete vision loss from advanced retinitis pigmentosa and who meet the necessary criteria. To be eligible, patients must:
  1. Be aged 18 years or older at the date of enrolment.
  2. Have a confirmed history of retinitis pigmentosa.
  3. Have a visual acuity of logMAR 2.3 or worse in both eyes.
  4. Have a functional optic nerve.
  5. Have a memory of former useful form vision in the worse-seeing eye.
  6. Understand and accept the obligation to attend all scheduled follow-up visits.
  • GPs and other professionals can get more details about referring patients to the trial from Kate Barugh on 0161 276 5615 or kate.barugh@cmft.nhs.uk.
  • Further information about retinitis pigmentosa is available from the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society at www.brps.org.uk

Interview requests

  • No patients are currently available for interview.
  • Paulo Stanga is available for media interviews on request. Please contact Ben Grothusen on 0161 901 2659, Jill Hulme on 07913 278514 or Aeron Haworth on 0161 275 8383.