An 80-year-old man from the UK has become the first person with dry age-related macular degeneration to receive a bionic eye implant, allowing him to regain some visual function.

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Mr. Flynn has become the first person with AMD to receive a bionic eye implant.
Image credit: The University of Manchester

Ray Flynn, from Manchester in the UK, had the device fitted last month in a 4-hour procedure led by Prof. Paulo Stanga at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.

The bionic eye implant – called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System (Argus II) – was fitted as part of an ongoing study to assess its efficacy in patients with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a condition that accounts for 80-90% of all AMD cases.

AMD is a leading cause of vision loss among seniors, affecting over 14% of individuals aged 80 and older in the US.

The condition causes damage to the macula – a part of the eye’s retina needed for central vision, allowing us to see objects directly in front of us. In dry AMD, damage to the macula is caused by small white or yellowish deposits called drusen, which form beneath the macula and cause it to deteriorate over time.

As the condition progresses, individuals may experience blurriness in their central vision. Though AMD does not cause complete blindness, it can interfere with day-to-day activities, such as reading, writing, driving and cooking, and can impair the ability to recognize faces.

What is more – unlike wet AMD – there are currently no treatment options available for dry AMD.

Speaking on the morning of his surgery last month, Mr. Flynn told BBC News about the difficulties of living with dry AMD. “I’m unable to put the numbers in for my card when paying in a shop or at the bank,” he said, “and although I was a keen gardener, I can’t tell the weeds from the flowers anymore.”

Thanks to the Argus II, Mr. Flynn can now see objects and outlines of people much more clearly, and it is hoped his vision will improve further.

Created by US visual prosthetics manufacturer Second Sight, the Argus II works by converting images captured by a miniature camera – mounted on a pair of glasses worn by the user – into small electrical pulses.

These electrical pulses are then transmitted to electrodes implanted in the retina. The electrodes stimulate the remaining cells of the retina, replicating light patterns that are sent to the brain. The user learns to decipher these patterns, allowing some visual function to be restored.

Two weeks after Mr. Flynn had the Argus II implanted, the device was activated. In an initial test, Mr. Flynn was required to close his eyes while the miniature camera captured patterns of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines on a computer screen. He was able to detect the patterns successfully, and his vision has since improved.

“Mr. Flynn’s progress is truly remarkable. He is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively,” says Prof. Stanga, adding:

This technology is revolutionary and changes patients’ lives – restoring some functional vision and helping them to live more independently.”

In the US and Europe, the Argus II is already approved to treat patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) – a condition characterized by degeneration of the retina, affecting around 100,000 people in the US.

It is now hoped the Argus II can help patients with dry AMD. “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,” says Prof. Sanga.

The device is to be implanted in a further four patients with dry AMD, in which the safety and efficacy of the device will be tested. These subjects will be followed for 3 years, and if the trial yields positive results, larger studies will be conducted.

In February, Medical News Today reported on how the Argus II restored the sight of a man with RP, allowing him to see his wife for the first time in 10 years.