'Bionic eye' operation helps blind man to see

Microchip implant restores limited vision to man who lost his sight 25 years ago

Three weeks ago, Chris James, who has been blind for 20 years, saw a sudden pulsating light in his left eye, like a camera bulb or a lighting flash.

Doctors had just switched on a wafer-thin, 3mm microchip implanted at the back of his eye.

Now he can distinguish shapes and might, in time, even be able to recognise faces.

Mr James' experimental “bionic eye” reacts to light sending an electronic signal that is picked by the optic nerve and processed by the brain into an image. The treatment could partially restore the sight of thousands of sufferers of a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which causes the photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye to deteriorate.

“As soon as I had this flash in my eye, it confirmed that my optic nerves are functioning properly which was a really promising sign,” Mr James said. “It was like someone taking a photo with a flashbulb, a pulsating light, I recognised it instantly.”

In March Mr James, a 54-year-old council worker from Wroughton, Wiltshire, underwent an eight hour operation at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford to have the chip implanted. A second patient, Robin Millar, 60, a music producer and DJ, had the surgery at Kings College Hospital in London, as part of the first UK clinical trial of the microchip, which has been developed by German company Retina Implant AG.

The surgery involves inserting a fine cable through the layers of the eyeball to place the chip on an area of the retina the size of a pinhead. The chip is connected to a power source implanted under the skin behind the ear.

“What makes this unique is that all functions of the retina are integrated into the chip,” said Professor Robert McLaren, professor of ophthalmology at the University of Oxford, who carried out the first operation, assisted by Mr Tim Jackson, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at King's College Hospital in London.

“It has 1,500 light sensing diodes and small electrodes that stimulate the overlying nerves to create a pixellated image. Apart from a hearing aid-like device behind the ear, you would not know a patient had one implanted.“

The patients only have a small range of black and white vision: a rectangle about the size of a CD case held at arm’s length. At present Mr James can only make out shapes and lines close up and it could takes weeks for the brain to begin to accurately interpret the signals received from the microchip.

“It's obviously early days but it's encouraging that I am already able to detect light where previously this would have not been possible for me,” he said. “I'm still getting used to the feedback the chip provides and it will take some time to make sense of this,” Mr James said.

A Finnish man became the first person to receive the experimental implant in 2010. If successful, the UK trial could establish the electronic retina as a standard treatment for patients with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition that affects 25,000 British families. In the future it could benefit sufferers of age-related macular degeneration. The treatment is not, however, suitable for diseases that affect the optic nerve, such as glaucoma.

Mr Millar, who began to lose his sight at the age of eight and has been totally blind for 25 years, said that since having the chip implanted, he has dreamed in colour for the first time in 35 years.

“I dreamed in bright greens, oranges, turquoises and blues,” he said. “Parts of the brain that have been dormant for 35 years had come to life again thanks to the retina implant. We are like the people taking the very first photographs. We are at the beginning of the path that will restore sight.”

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all