First retinal implant study for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) restores some visual function

An 80 year old man who has dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) has undergone a retinal implant procedure as part of a clinical trial in the Royal Manchester Eye Hospital. This is the first time that the device, also known as a “bionic eye”, has been used for a patient with AMD. The device provides some rudimentary vision but does not fully restore the central vision lost to AMD. Since his system was turned on, on July 1, this gentleman can now make out the outline of people and objects.

We welcome the news that a retina implant has been tested in a patient with the most common form of sight loss in older individuals, age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is a very promising development and could make a significant difference for patients who have progressed to late stage AMD and lost a considerable amount of vision.

This gentleman is part of a small feasibility study of five patients, currently being conducted in Manchester. Although this is the first study worldwide into retinal implants for patients with AMD, the Argus II device has previously been used in patients who have a rare genetic eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). The Argus II is commercially available in the US and in some European countries for patients with late-stage RP. The purpose of these types of implants is to restore visual signals that the person then has to interpret and learn to use effectively. There is a long realisation and learning process after the initial four hour surgery.

The so called “bionic eye” has long been researched as a potential therapy for retinal degenerations. The Argus II retina implant is one of the more advanced of the competing “bionic eye” approaches currently being developed worldwide. It has been in development for the past twenty years and was originally designed for patients living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). It is a clear example how research into rare diseases like RP can increase knowledge and translate into potential therapies for more common conditions such as AMD.

Retinal implant technology is not currently at the stage where it can restore vision to an extent that would allow people to recover the ability to drive and read fine detail, however we are positive that it is heading in the right direction. Technology is constantly improving in this ever advancing field and the fact that this device has moved from being used in patients with end-stage RP that have lost all of their vision to a common condition like AMD is a significant milestone. This development, along the vast amount of progress we are witnessing in other areas of retinal research worldwide gives real hope for the restoration of vision in the future.

About age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

It is estimated that one in 14 Irish people aged 50 years or older are living with AMD. It is the leading cause of sight loss in this age group, with the number of people affected due to increase in the coming years due to our aging population. AMD causes the gradual loss of sight due to blurring or loss of central vision, which the vision we use to see fine detail and for tasks such as reading and driving. AMD is a chronic disease; however certain forms of the condition can be treated. Early detection is important to potentially stop the spread of the disease and to protect vision.

About Retinal Implant Technology

Retina implant technology involves the use of microelectronics and microchip electrodes surgically implanted into the back of the eye (retina) to restore the function of the damaged light-activated cells found there. These photoreceptor cells respond to light and convert it to an electrical signal which is passed to nerve cells in the eye, and then ultimately to the brain where it is perceived as vision. Many scientists and companies are currently working on devices that could provide artificial vision to people affected by severe vision loss. This device used in this clinical trial in Manchester is the Argus II retinal implant, developed by Second Sight Medical Products.