Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a rare genetic disorder that sabotages the retina’s ability to respond to light by disabling rod photoreceptors. The National Eye Institute estimates that one in 4,000 people around the world are affected by the disorder.
However, new advances in the UK may have Brits seeing alleviation from the illness soon (pun intended). The National Health Service has begun funding the implantation of ten devices among ten patients to help treat the blindness.
The Argus II Bionic Eye Implant works in unison with a small camera mounted on a pair of glasses worn by the patients. Images obtained by the camera are converted into wireless signals via electrodes attached to the retina. These electrodes stimulate the retinal cells which then transmit information to the brain, effectively restoring some sight to the patient.
“This highly innovative NHS-funded procedure shows real promise and could change lives,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielden, the director of specialized commissioning at NHS England.
This marks a special point in history as this is the first time any type of treatment has been available for those who are affected by this ailment. As such, half the procedures will be conducted at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, and the other half at Moorfields Eye Hospital in 2017.
After the procedures, the patients will be monitored for a year to determine how well the implant was able to improve their quality of life.
In the UK, where the program is being implemented, an estimated 16,000 people suffer from the disorder, reports The Guardian. Among those, around 160 to 320 are possibly eligible for a bionic eye procedure. The NHS’s intent to support funding for the first ten patients receiving the implant is anchored in their vision to show viable treatments available to RP sufferers.
Across various fields of science, however, advances in technology and research have shown promise in terms of preventing blindness or restoring sight.
In one study, Google DeepMind, the artificial intelligence (AI) research subsidiary of Alphabet, has developed an AI algorithm that can detect diabetic retinopathy — one of the most common forms of blindness that leads to gradual loss of sight.
Furthermore, a gene therapy intended to cure blindness caused by hereditary retinal dystrophy is already in its final stage of FDA approval and could reach the market as early as 2017. And Salk Institute Researchers have used CRISPR/Cas-p — a revolutionary gene-editing technique — to demonstrate how it can be used to partially restore sight in a study conducted in mice with genetic defects.