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Australian bionic eye to take on the world

Australia-based research into bionic eye technology is expanding internationally, with global tests planned after the successful results of a four-patient trial in Melbourne.

The 44-week findings of Bionic Vision Technologies’ (BVT) study, which were presented at the 38th Annual JP Morgan Conference in San Francisco, revealed that participants in the pilot study demonstrated significantly improved awareness of both external objects and their surroundings.

The trial was run out of the Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) and Bionics Institute in Melbourne.

According to BVT the most notable patient improvements were seen in obstacle avoidance. In the Primary Obstacle Avoidance Task, participants were able to detect 74.3% of obstacles in their way with the device turned on, as opposed to only 4% when it was off.

Improved results were also seen in identification tasks, which requires patients to identify and touch an object similar to the shape of a window. At 44 weeks participants were able to identify the correct object in 70.3% of cases with the device on, as opposed to only 24.4% of the time when the device was off.

Associate Professor Penny Allen, head of the vitreoretinal unit at CERA and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, said the results provide valuable information about real-world use of the system.

“The data from this trial demonstrates that the longer patients use the system, the more proficient they become at locating objects, recognising doorways and avoiding obstacles − all of which contribute to a greater sense of mobility and independence in the day-to-day lives of people who are blind,” Allen said.

“The device also gives patients a better sense of social connection, something they have missed since the loss of their sight.

“In addition, patients are reporting that they can do things they have not been able to do for many years. Our research team is encouraged by the unique progress that each patient is making and we believe there will be continued progress the longer patients learn to use the Bionic Eye system.”

The results have also shown that all four implants have remained in place for a full year, and there have been no serious adverse events.

Based on the success of the results, BVT is now undertaking a significant expansion for its next trial.

“Based on these positive results, BVT intends to initiate a worldwide clinical trial for the commercialisation of our Gen3 device which will offer improved performance and usability as well as a streamlined external design, similar to the appearance of traditional eyeglasses,” Mr Ash Attia, BVT CEO, said.

The device has been in development since 2012 and uses camera mounted glasses to capture images, which are converted into electrical signals which stimulate a person’s optical nerves. It was also the subject of CERA’s 2019 Gerard Crock Lecture.