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UK bionic eye tests being prepared

UK surgeons are preparing to test a bionic eye that allows blind people to see again.

The implanted microchip restored the sight of blind people to a point were they could read letters and spot objects when it was tested in Germany.

Now a follow-up study is being readied by surgeons at King's College Hospital, London, who will select six patients for the trial, while another six patients will be tested at Oxford Eye Hospital.

The German device, manufactured by Retina Implant AG, is placed under the retina to work like a digital film camera.

It works by sending pulsed electrical signals to nerve cells from a 3mm sq array of 1,500 light sensors. The nerve cells then pass on the information to the brain.

The implant is designed to help patients with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disorder which gradually destroys the retina. One in 3,000 people in the UK have the disease, some of whom can be blind by the age of 30.

The pilot trial in Germany achieved remarkable results with three blind patients, who were able to see shapes and objects for the first time since losing their sight.

Within days of surgery, the two men and one woman could locate a cup, saucer and different geometric shapes placed on a table.

One 46-year-old Finnish patient was able to walk around a room with confidence, tell the time from a clock, distinguish between subtle shades of grey and could even read his name.

Results from the trial were published last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Surgeon Tim Jackson, who will head the King's College team, said: "We are delighted to be involved in testing this pioneering technology. The results demonstrated by the German team are genuinely impressive, and they represent an important step towards artificial vision that could greatly enhance the quality of life for people with an incurable, blinding disease.

"It is unquestionably an extremely exciting development."

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Proceedings of the Royal Society B

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"I think bionic tests will help a lot of people across the world please keep on updating us on the development" - Loyce, Zimbabwe