Professor Robert MacLaren, Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, has performed the first retinal implant in the UK, performing the eight hour surgery at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. The patient, Chris James, had been left completely blind from retinitis pigmentosa, a disease in which retinal cells deteriorate over time. The retinal implants contain 1500 electronic light detectors which act as substitutes for the lost retinal cells. The implant’s electrodes are connected to overlying nerves which relay signals to the optic nerve, with the patient experiencing a pixelated image. A power supply for the device is inserted behind the ear.
Once the implant was switched on, the patient was able to immediately detect light. After some time adjusting to the device, he is now able to recognise basic shape outlines. The device is still in the trial phase, with up to 12 UK patients being included. The manufacturers, Retina Implant of Germany, hope for commercial approval following the trial.
Prof MacLaren said ‘we are all delighted with these initial results. The vision is different to normal ... and it requires a different type of brain processing. We hope, however, that the electronic chips will provide independence for many people who are blind from retinitis pigmentosa.’