A man successfully underwent surgery for electronic eyes last month, Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital said on Thursday, and doctors expect to connect the device to a power source by the end of the month.
The “eye” functions like a miniature camera, said Huang Yi-hsiu (黃奕修), a doctor at the hospital’s Artificial Electronic Eye Center in the Department of Ophthalmology.
Surgeons implanted microcomputers, antennae and microchips in the 41-year-old patient’s eyes, which are to send signals to the brain through active optical nerves.
The antennae receive wireless signals sent by a pair of glasses, which serve as lenses would in a camera, Huang said.
The electronics are minuscule and would not cause the patient discomfort, Huang said, adding that they are charged wirelessly.
Patients in other countries have worn similar devices that have been effective for at least nine years, Huang said, adding that the patient, surnamed Kao (高), would be able to “see” and live his life after two or three months of therapy.
The method is only able to restore vision to a hazy 0.01 — as though a mosaic effect has been applied, or like colorless images from early cameras — but it is still a significant improvement for nearly blind patients, Huang said.
Now these people could see where they are walking and what eating utensils they need, Huang said, adding that they could also see well enough to avoid walking into poles or walls.
Some patients might see the wrong shapes — like blocks instead of the ball they were asked to hold during tests — and therefore must continue to undergo therapy until their visual memories return, Huang said, adding that for now, they should use touch to help with their rehabilitation.
Huang said that at this rate, artificial eye technology would improve rapidly over the coming years.
However, not everyone is eligible for the procedure, Huang said.
People whose optic nerves have not completely atrophied and can still see some dim light, or who have been blind for a short time, could undergo the surgery, Huang said, adding that it costs NT$9 million (US$296,809).
Huang said that Kao was selected for the procedure because he is younger and was only nearly blind for two years, and because it was funded by the Hung Lu Foundation.
Kao had to leave his job as a supervisor at a construction company after he developed retinal dystrophy and went nearly completely blind.