July 28, 2015 -- An 80-year-old British man has become the first person to receive a bionic eye transplant to treat dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Ray Flynn got the operation to help restore his central vision. Doctors say initial screening tests after surgery show improvements.
Flynn received the Argus II "bionic eye" in a 4-hour operation on June 16 at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. When the system was activated on July 1, Flynn said he could see the outline of people and objects even with his eyes closed. Doctors say that proves he wasn't using any of his remaining natural vision to identify them.
"Mr. Flynn's progress is truly remarkable. He is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively," says Paulo Stanga, MD, a surgeon at the hospital. "Mr. Flynn is the first patient to be implanted with Argus II as part of a trial we are doing that aims to establish whether blind patients with total central-vision loss due to dry AMD can benefit from an artificial retina."
AMD is a painless eye condition that generally leads to the gradual loss of central vision but can sometimes cause a rapid loss in sight. As central vision is lost, it becomes increasingly hard to see things in front of you, making it difficult to read or recognize people's faces.
AMD usually affects both eyes and is incurable. It is the leading cause of sight loss in the Western world and, because of an aging population, is becoming more common.
"As far as I am concerned, the first results of the trial are a total success, and I look forward to treating more dry AMD patients with the Argus II as part of this trial," Stanga says. "We are currently recruiting four more patients to the trial in Manchester."
The Argus II, made by U.S.-based Second Sight Medical Products, works by converting video images captured by a miniature camera housed in the patient's glasses into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to electrodes on the surface of the retina.
These electrical pulses stimulate the retina's remaining cells to make a corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns to regain some visual function.
Others are encouraged by the news of Flynn's transplant. "This is an exciting result, and we are following the progress of these trials with great interest," says Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the U.K.-based charity Macular Society. "Macular degeneration can be a devastating condition and very many people are now affected as we live longer.
"These are early trials, but in time this research may lead to a really useful device for people who lose their central vision."