Ray Flynn can now see again after undergoing a four-hour operation to get implanted with a revolutionary bionic eye called the Argus II.
Tests have revealed that the 80 year old retired engineer can now make out objects and people. He can also see even with his eyes closed. Flynn has dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the number one cause of visual impairment in the U.K affecting up to half a million people.
"Before, when I was looking at a plant in the garden, it was like a honeycomb in the center of my eye. That has now disappeared: I can now walk round the garden and see things," Flynn said.
The implant conducted at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital last month made Flynn the first person to have combined natural and artificial sight. The operation left him with an electrical implant that sends a video feed to the healthy cells in his retina from a miniature camera attached to his glasses.
The Argus II bionic eye, which was developed by Second Sight Medical Products, was designed to provide electrical stimulation to the eye's retina so as to induce visual perception in the blind. It has already been used to restore the vision of patients who lost their eyesight due to a rare condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. Flynn's operation is the first time that the device was implanted in a person with age-related AMD.
Here's how it works: a small video camera attached to the glasses of the patient captures a scene and the video is sent to a small computer processor, where the images are processed into electrical impulses.
The impulses are then sent wirelessly to the antenna in the retinal implant and then transmitted via a cable to electrodes on the surface of the retina. The electrodes then stimulate the remaining healthy cells in the retina producing perception of patterns of light in the patient's brain. The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns as rough images with the retinal implant.
Four more individuals with dry AMD will have the bionic eye implant at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital as participants of a clinical trial.
Manchester Royal Eye Hospital consultant ophthalmologist Paulo Stanga hopes that the system could also be used by patients who have other vision problems. Scientists also have to work out how to use the device for those who have been blind since birth because they have not learned to processes electrical impulses from their eyes.