(Australian Associated Press)
Privately-held Bionic Vision Technologies is seeking to raise $10 million, part of which will be used to fund a trial of the next version of its bionic eye.
The bionic eye is a device containing electrodes which is implanted at the back of the eye, into a naturally-occurring pocket called the suprachoroidal space.
Also, patients wear a pair of glasses containing a small inbuilt camera.
Images captured by the camera are transmitted to an externally-worn vision processing unit.
Vision processing technology is applied to the data before it is transmitted to the electrodes at the back of the retina.
Bionic Vision executive chairman Robert Klupacs said a pilot trial of a device containing 24 electrodes on three patients with a debilitating degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa had been successful.
Retinitis pigmentosa is the most common cause of inherited blindness, affecting about 1.5 million people globally.
The patients in the first trial of the bionic eye were profoundly blind people who could not perceive any light.
But using the bionic eye, they were able to perceive light and determine shapes and outlines, well enough, for example, to tell a cereal box from another box next to it.
This enabled patients to navigate, move around in unknown environments, and have more control over their lives.
“They can see things they haven’t seen before,” Mr Klupacs told AAP.
“It’s not like the vision that we would take for granted. But they are seeing images now that their brain is, for the first time, taking in and recalibrating.”
Patients may still have to use canes and guide dogs but not as often.
Bionic Vision is now moving to conduct a trial of an updated device featuring 44 electrodes.
In that trial, starting in early 2016, the patient’s ability to perceive colour will be among the tests.
Patients will be able to use the bionic eye outside of the clinic, in their own homes.
Bionic Vision is also developing a device with 99 electrodes but that device is a couple of years away from completion.
Mr Klupacs said it was believed that the electrodes helped stimulate cells in the eye, and more stimulated cells enhanced the light within the eye.
Mr Klupacs said the $10 million to be raised would be used for the 2016 trial, the future trial of the device containing 99 electrodes, ongoing research and manufacturing the bionic eyes.