In 1993 when I was a medical student doing a term in the USA at the Mayo Clinic I attended a lecture from a visiting professor who discussed his project, the development of a functioning retinal prosthesis, or Bionic Eye. At the time it seemed to sounded like science fiction, almost like an eccentric dream.
Well, move forward almost 20 years and this dream is becoming a reality. Last month in Melbourne Dianne Ashworth, who is affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), became the first person to receive a Bionic Eye, and Dr Penny Allen at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, the first surgeon to implant one.
This retinal prosthesis prototype was developed by Bionic Vision Australia, a consortium of researchers from the Bionics Institute, the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA), NICTA, the University of Melbourne and UNSW.
The research team is still at a very early stage in the development of this technology, but this historic pioneering Australian development gives hope to other people affected by conditions such as RP.