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Patient receives first wireless retinal device implant

A surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has implanted the first patient in the US with a new wireless retinal device.

The procedure was part of a clinical trial aimed at restoring partial sight to patients with advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The device, called PRIMA, consists of a two millimetre-by-two millimetre, 30μ-thick miniaturised wireless photovoltaic chip placed under the damaged retina. It works in tandem with augmented reality glasses that have a built-in miniaturised camera and infrared projector.

The PRIMA implant was invented by Daniel Palanker, professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University, and licensed and developed by Pixium Vision, a spin-off from the Paris Vision Institute.

Announcing the breakthrough, the trial investigators said the chip acted like a tiny artificial retina, made up of 378 electrodes that convert infrared light from the glasses to electrical signals that are carried by the optic nerve to the brain.

After receiving the implant, patients undergo an intensive rehabilitation program that trains their brains to understand and interpret the signals from the implant in combination with their remaining natural vision.

Compared to earlier-generation implants, PRIMA is wireless and has significantly more electrodes, which allows for the transmission of more visual information, the UPMC team reported.

The UPMC feasibility trial is running in parallel with the first-in-human trial in France, which involves five patients with advanced AMD, who now have been followed for more than a year.

The 12-month results from the French study demonstrated the ability of most patients to identify sequences of letters and there were no device-related serious adverse effects.

“We are working with a great sense of urgency because the aging population of the United States, especially the western Pennsylvania region we live in, will see a significant rise in the number of patients at risk for vision loss through diseases like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and vascular eye disease, as well as earlier onset genetic conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa,” Dr José-Alain Sahel, director of the UPMC Eye Center, said.

This diagram provides a snapshot of how the device functions in patients.