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“All of a sudden I could see a little flash of light. It was amazing.”

August 30, 2012

“All of a sudden I could see a little flash of light. It was amazing.”

In a major development, Bionic Vision Australia researchers have successfully performed the first implantation of an early prototype bionic eye with 24 electrodes.

Dianne Ashworth, 54, was the first patient fitted with the device in surgery at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in May.

Dianne has profound vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited condition. She has now received what she calls a ‘pre-bionic eye’ implant that enables her to experience some vision. A passionate technology fan, Diane was motivated to make a contribution to the bionic eye research program.

After years of hard work and planning, Diane's implant was switched on last month at the Bionics Institute, while researchers held their breaths in the next room, observing via video link.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash…it was amazing. Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye,” Diane said.

The Eye and Ear is a clinical partner of the bionic eye project and as the home of the bionic ear, has a proud history in bionics.

Dr Penny Allen, a specialist surgeon, led the surgical team to implant the prototype at The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

“This is a world first – we implanted a device in this position behind the retina, demonstrating the viability of our approach. Every stage of the procedure was planned and tested, so I felt very confident going into theatre,” Dr Allen said.

The implant is only switched on and stimulated after the eye has recovered fully from the effects of surgery. The next phase of this work involves testing various levels of electrical stimulation with Diane.

Professor Anthony Burkitt, Director of Bionic Vision Australia said: “This outcome is a strong example of what a multi-disciplinary research team can achieve. Funding from the Australian Government was critical in reaching this important milestone. The Bionics Institute and the surgeons at the Centre for Eye Research Australia played a critical role in reaching this point.”

The Eye and Ear is home to the Centre for Eye Research Australia, also part of the bionic eye consortium. By housing specialists and researchers under one roof, we are able to translate research into clinical care quickly. Sharing our knowledge and expertise throughout the community, the Eye and Ear helps make world quality eye and ear health care available to all. Working with Bionic Vision Australia and members of the consortium, we will continue to have an impact on the future of eye health in Australia and internationally.