From bionic ear to bionic eye

An example of the microchip that will be inserted into retinas to help restore sight. Credit: NICTA
An example of the microchip that will be inserted into retinas to help restore sight. Credit: NICTA

Melbourne scientists gave Australia the first practical bionic ear. Today, over 180,000 people hear with the help of the cochlear implant.

Now, The University of Melbourne is a key member in an Australian consortium developing an advanced bionic eye that will restore vision to people with severe vision loss. This device will enable unprecedented high resolution images to be seen by thousands of people with severely diminished sight, allowing them to read large print and recognise faces.

The new device will use a video camera—fixed to a person’s glasses—to capture images which are then translated into electrical impulses that stimulate electrodes inserted into the retina. These images are then sent to the visual cortex and stimulate the same area of the brain usually stimulated by visual cues. Over time the patient then learns to interpret these electrically evoked parcels of light as useful vision.

The device is being developed by the Bionic Vision Australia partnership which unites biomedical engineers, clinical experts and neuroscientists from across the country.

“The new device has the potential to be superior to other retinal implants being investigated by groups throughout the world,” says Anthony Burkitt, Research Director of Bionic Vision Australia and Professor of Engineering at the University.

For more information: The University of Melbourne, Media office, Tel: +61 (3) 8834 4123, news@media.unimelb.edu.au, www.newsroom.melbourne.edu. The University of Melbourne has a fully equipped television studio that enables live crosses to television stations around the world.

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