Dr. Fanny Nerinckx, ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon at UZ (Universitair Ziekenhuis) Gent, and her team have, for the first time in Belgium, treated a patient with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a rare hereditary eye disease, with an implant on the retina, also referred to as a bionic eye.
The patient can once again observe patterns after years of blindness. She now distinguishes shapes such as windows and doors and the silhouettes of people.
Dr. Nerinckx explains: “It is a condition in which light-sensitive cells on the inside of the eye degenerate. Visibility gradually declines until complete blindness follows. Treatment or intervention in an advanced stage of the disease was until recently not possible in Belgium.”
The implant or bionic eye was developed by Second Sight Medical Products, a start-up that specialises in medical devices that combat blindness. It was named Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System or Argus II for short.
The treatment does not restore normal vision, but partially replaces the function of the retina with a system consisting of a mini camera, pocket computer and implant. It works as follows:
The person wears glasses with a mini camera in the middle of the frame.
The camera sends the images to a small portable computer.
The computer translates the images and sends them via an antenna on the glasses to the implant on the retina.
The implant stimulates the still intact nerve cells of the retina with 60 electrodes.
The nerve cells send the signal through the optic nerve to the brain where the image forms.
For the application of Argus II, it is crucial that the patient could once see. “After a successful operation in January, it is now important that the patient undergoes intense rehabilitation,” says Dr. Nerinckx. “During the rehabilitation at UZ Gent, the patient learns to interpret the images of the camera and links them to images she has ever seen”, she adds.
The actual patient, R.C., says: “After 10 years of blindness, I can once again see large forms. I see light and dark, contrasting door frames and lines.”
More than 250 people in countries such as Italy, UK, Germany, France and the US have already had the operation before the patient at UZ Gent.