November 3, 2011 – A retinal prosthesis known to many as “the bionic retina” was implanted for the first time commercially in a patient in a hospital in Pisa, Italy, on October 29. Called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System, it was surgically implanted by Dr. Stanislao Rizzo, director of the University Hospital Ophthalmic Department of Pisa, who reports that the patient, who has an advanced form of retinitis pigmentosa, is recovering quite well.
The Argus II received European marketing approval several months ago as the result of a three-year international clinical trial, which demonstrated the device’s long-term safety, performance and reliability. It’s the first artificial retina to receive marketing approval anywhere, and its developer, Second Sight Medical Products, is currently seeking FDA approval in the United States.
The Argus II consists of a 60-electrode grid that is surgically implanted on the retina, where the electrodes transmit information taken from an external video camera mounted on a pair of eyeglasses worn by the user. The device has enabled clinical trial participants who are profoundly blind, due to damaged photoreceptors, to see shapes, locate objects and recognize large letters. Users of the device perceive patterns of light, which they learn to interpret as vision.
“Second Sight’s artificial retina is truly innovative technology, which enables people with advanced retinal diseases to function more independently,” says Dr. Stephen Rose, the Foundation’s chief research officer. “The Foundation funded pre-clinical work that allowed this technology to advance, so to know that it has been successfully implanted in the first patient is exciting."
Over the next couple of weeks, according to Dr. Rizzo, the implanted Argus II will be tested and customized for the patient. If the process, which includes training and rehabilitation, goes well, the patient may be using the device at home by the end of this month.
As its name indicates, the Argus II is a second-generation version of the device, which, originally, had a 16-electrode grid. Playing a crucial role in the device’s development, the Foundation funded the first version at the pre-clinical stage. The name Argus, according to Second Sight, comes from Greek mythology. Argus Panoptes, a giant with 100 eyes, was considered all-seeing.