Blind woman fitted with ''bionic eye'' sees again after five years

news
08 January 2016

A blind woman fitted with a "bionic eye" has spoken of her joy after she was able to tell the time for the first time in more than five years.

Rhian Lewis, 49, was given the retinal implant as part of an ongoing trial at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital.

Surgeons at the Oxford Eye Hospital implanted a tiny electronic chip at the back of her right eye's retina in a bid to help her see.

The mother of two, from Cardiff, has suffered from retinitis pigmentosa - an inherited disorder - since she was five.

The condition causes gradual deterioration of the light-detecting cells (photoreceptors) in the retina, which can lead to blindness.

One in 3,000 to 4,000 people in the UK have the disease, for which there is currently no cure.

Lewis is completely blind in her right eye and has virtually no vision in her left eye.

The implant, made by German firm Retina Implant AG, was placed in Lewis' eye in June in an operation that can last six to eight hours.

During follow-up tests, Miss Lewis was asked to look closely at a large cardboard clock to see if she could tell the time correctly.

She had not been able to tell the time with her right eye in 16 years and for about six years with her left eye.

She said "oh my god" when she realised she had managed to tell that the time was three o'clock.

She said: "Honest to god, that felt like Christmas day."

The implant - a 3mm sq array of around 1,500 light sensors which sends pulsed electrical signals to nerve cells - is connected to a tiny computer that sits underneath the skin behind the ear.

This is powered by a magnetic coil on the skin. From the outside, it looks like a hearing aid.

When the device is first switched on, patients see flashes of light, but over a few weeks the brain learns to convert those flashes into meaningful shapes and objects.

The images can be black and white and grainy but still have the power to transform lives.

Describing the moment the device was turned on, Lewis said: "They said I might not get any sensation and then all of a sudden within seconds there was like this flashing in my eye, which has seen nothing for over 16 years, so it was like, oh my god, wow!"





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