Making the blind see again is nothing short of a miracle and that's what one woman in Hawaii may be experiencing after undergoing a historic eye surgery to regain her vision.
The 72-year-old woman has been blind for two years no thanks to a genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. She underwent surgery at the Eye Surgery Center of Hawaii, a four-hour procedure to give her a bionic eye.
Dr. Mark Humayan, the inventor of the bionic eye, said it only works now for patients with retinitis pigmentosa but hopes it will evolve quickly to address severe vision impairment due to other causes as well.
The bionic eye surgery is the first of its kind carried out in the Asia-Pacific region, taking more than 25 years to develop.
Humayan explained that the eye contains hundreds and millions of photo receptors. However, activating just 60 pixels will allow someone completely blind to see large objects, differentiate between a chair and a table or a fork and a knife.
"It's very exciting to see what the brain is able to fill in," he added.
The bionic eye is actually a system made up of an implanted device and a special kind of glasses. After the device is implanted into the eye of the patient, the glasses are worn to capture images like a camera, beaming it back to the device for processing. Once the device processes the images, they are transferred to the retina and directed to the optic nerve which passes the information to the brain to identify the image.
Lead surgeon Gregg Kokame likens the situation to being in total darkness. Once the implant is in place, however, it will be possible to see down a hallway or identify anyone walking into a room. It may be a small change but it's a huge impact on the lives of those who have lost their sight.
The woman will take about a week to recover, and once she does, she'll be able to see again. While only shades of grey will be visible to the patient right now, studies have shown that it is possible for the bionic eye to help someone see up to nine colors.
The bionic eye has been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2013 and is estimated to cost around $144,000.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of genetic disorders affecting the ability of the retina to respond to light. This leads to slow loss of vision, starting with reduced night vision and peripheral vision loss. Blindless eventually occurs from the condition.
Photo: Dan Foy | Flickr