A revolutionary bionic eye implant has restored the sight of a British man.
Ray Flynn, 80, from Audenshaw, Manchester, has become the first patient in the world to receive an artificial retina for dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of eyesight problems in the UK.
Hundreds of thousands of those with the affliction could benefit from the technology, which was previously used only for those with a rare eyesight condition.
Surgeons at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital implanted a chip at the back of Mr Flynn’s eye in a four-hour procedure last month.
The retired factory supervisor can now make out shapes with his eyes closed – proof that the system is working.
Since he was diagnosed with AMD eight years ago Mr Flynn’s eyesight has progressively deteriorated, until he could only see clearly out of the corners of his eyes.
Now the £80,000 procedure has given him back his central vision, allowing him to read a newspaper without a magnifying glass for the first time in years.
Surgeons will now insert the Argus II retinal implant into more patients over the coming months to demonstrate that it can work for a variety of patients. They hope that eventually the system will become available on the NHS.
Age-related macular degeneration affects 500,000 people in Britain, 85 per cent of them with the dry form of the disease. It occurs when the cells at the middle of the retina become damaged, resulting in a loss of central vision.
The bionic system works by transferring video images, captured by a camera in special spectacles, into electrical impulses that can be read by the brain.
The electronic signals are sent wirelessly on to an array of electrodes placed over the damaged cells at the back of the retina.
The impulses stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.
The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns to regain some visual function.
Professor Paulo Stagna (right) from The Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility at University Manchester Hospital, checks Mr Flynn’s (left) eye
The retired factory supervisor (left with Professor Paulo Stagna and right) can now make out shapes with his eyes closed – proof that the system is working
Mr Flynn said he is taking things slowly as he gets used to the system but is already benefiting in his everyday life.
He said: ‘Before when I was looking at a plant in the garden it was like a honeycomb in the centre of my eye. That has now disappeared. I can now walk round the garden and see things.’
His system was turned on for the first time on July 1, and tests showed that he could make out the outline of people and objects even with his eyes closed.
Professor Paulo Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, said: ‘Mr Flynn’s progress is truly remarkable. He is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively.
‘Ray had to do everything with his peripheral vision – it’s very tiring, it is exhausting.
‘This is new information that Ray’s brain is receiving and his brain now needs to get use to interpreting it.’
The £80,000 procedure has given him back his central vision, allowing him to read a newspaper without a magnifying glass for the first time in years
Mr Flynn said he is taking things slowly as he gets used to the system but is already benefiting in his everyday life
The Argus II retinal implant was previously used on 130 patients with the rare eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. However, those patients, unlike Mr Flynn, had no peripheral vision.
The new system is thought to be the first in the world that combines artificial and natural eyesight, with the electronic images in the centre of the eye melding with natural images from the surviving peripheral cells in the retina.
Professor Stanga said he hopes the system, developed by US firm Second Sight Medical Products, might be used for patients with other vision problems.
But he said scientists have not yet worked out how to use it for patients who have been blind from birth, because those patients have never learned how to process the electrical impulses from the eye.