‘Doctors discover cure for blindness,’ announced the Daily Express. The headline prompted considerable scoffing – but the truth is no less remarkable. A pensioner from Manchester has been fitted with a ‘bionic eye’ that has partially restored his sight. The pensioner in question, 80-year-old Ray Flynn, has age-related macular degeneration, which affects 500,000 people in Britain, and had lost his central vision. Now he can read a newspaper without a magnifying glass and see the faces of his family once again. Flynn told the Telegraph:
‘I can now actually see the face of my brother …And watching Manchester United on the television is easier. I have central vision now which I haven’t had for eight years.
‘Your eyes are the most precious thing. My brain is still trying to catch up and work out what is going on, but I have been told it will continue to get better.’
The implant is a world first, performed at the Royal Eye Hospital in Manchester. It works by converting a video feed into electrical pulses that stimulate the remaining retinal cells. In a few years’ time – once a larger trial has been conducted and patients monitored for three years – it could be available on the NHS.
Age-related macular degeneration is the most common form of blindness in the developed world. Yet there is hope for other forms of blindness too. The company that produced the bionic eye, Second Sight, is working on another device that would bypass the retina and optic nerve entirely and therefore be effective for people with such conditions as glaucoma and retinal detachments. Human trials for this device are still two years away, however.