NHS to give 'bionic eyes' to ten blind patients

Sufferers of retinitis pigmentosa will receive the £150,000 treatment next year

Argusull Eye
(Image credit: NHS/‏@NHSEngland)

The NHS is to fit "bionic eyes" on ten people with an inherited form of blindness.

Five patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa will receive the Argus II Bionic Eye at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital next year, with another five being treated at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

They will be fitted with a retinal implant that interprets images captured by a tiny video camera on a pair of glasses, the BBC reports. The video is then sent wirelessly to the implant, which reads it as patterns of light and dark that patients learn to interpret into partial vision.

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Keith Hayman, 68, from Lancashire, who received a trial implant in 2009, said he now has some sight after two decades of darkness.

"I can now tell when my grandchildren run towards me and make out lights twinkling on Christmas trees," he said. "These little things make all the difference to me."

There are an estimated 16,000 Britons living with retina pigmentosa, of whom 160-320 could be eligible for the £150,000 treatment. As gene and stem cell therapies do not show evidence of working, the bionic eye is the only current method to restore some vision to the completely blind, The Guardian reports.

Professor Paulo Stanga of the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, who was involved in earlier trials, said he was delighted the NHS has chosen to fund the treatment.

"It surpassed all of our expectations when we realised that one of the retinitis pigmentosa patients in Manchester using the bionic eye could identify large letters for the first time in his adult life," he told the Press Association.

The ten patients will be monitored following the operation to see how far the eye improves their everyday lives and assess whether the treatment should be offered to more people.

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