Hosted by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the award recognised the work done to develop a device that can potentially protect the sight of those at risk of developing common causes of blindness.Based on a similar concept to the bionic eye but a quarter of the size, the tiny implantable device sits unnoticed at the back of the eye and provides sporadic low-level electrical stimulation. This stimulation triggers the release of naturally occurring chicals that protect sight and prevent retinal cells from dying.Preclinical studies have shown the Minimally Invasive Retinal-degeneration Arrestor device is safe and effective in a retinitis pigmentosa model, and that it could also be useful for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration.Bionics Institute CEO Mr Robert Klupacs told Newscorp the new technology had the potential to help many people and that given the wide range of diseases it could potentially treat at an earlier stage, it may become even more useful than the bionic eye.“Once someone has lost their sight there is only so much you can give back with the bionic eye. If they don’t have to lose their sight, they can have a really good life,” Klupacs said.“This will be one of the most amazing things to come out of Australia if it comes off.”Dr David Nayagam, a research fellow from the Bionics Institute, said the team aims to start human clinical trials in 12–18 months.“If we can get five or 10 years of extra sight, that might be enough for the patient to see their kids grow up or to finish their working career. That’s the grand hope, but the work is just beginning. We need to prove it is safe and efficacious before we can start the clinical trials,” Nayagam said.“It’s smaller, simpler, less invasive and delivers less current than the bionic eye. We’re very hopeful we shouldn’t run into any obstacles.”The project has already received nearly $1 million from the NHMRC.
IMAGE TOP: (L-R) Professor Grae Samuel, Chair Health Innovation Advisory Committee. Dr David Nayagam, accepting on behalf of A/Professor Chris Williams. Image courtesy: NHMRC & Irene Dowdy