Bionic Eye Comes to Market in Europe

The bionic eye, or retinal prosthesis, is clinically approved in Europe

This past Spring the technology review blog published by MIT reported that a bionic eye has been approved for commercial use in Europe. Now, at least partial restoration of vision is available for some people with blindness related to retinal degeneration and disease.

The system is called the Argus II and was developed by a California company called Second Sight. The devices are now available through a limited number of clinics in Switzerland, France, and the United Kingdom. Second Sight hopes to have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approve the Argus II for use in America by next year.

The device, which costs $115,000, works with a camera mounted on a pair of glasses. The glasses wirelessly transmit images to a chip implanted in the wearer’s retina. The wireless signal stimulates remaining retinal cells which then send the image to the brain, creating limited vision the patient can perceive. So far only 60 electrodes are contained in the retinal implant, allowing for limited light and shape perception, but future designs will include more electrodes for better visual restoration. A German company, Retinal Implants AG, is developing in implant with 1,500 electrodes as well as photodiodes to eliminate the need for external glasses or a camera.

The Argus II is notable, though, because it has already been implanted in at least 30 patients with success. Take a look at the video below to see how the Argus II retinal prosthesis works.

Electronic Tattoo Invented for Medical Health Monitoring

An Electronic Tattoo May Replace Current Health Monitoring Technology

The electronic tattoo monitors health information

The electronic tattoo monitors health information

Last Thursday the journal Science released an article describing the invention of an electronic temporary tattoo that is capable of monitoring heart, brain, and muscle function. The wireless device is thin enough to be applied to the skin, sticks without adhesives, and is powered by miniature solar cells. It was invented to answer the great demand by doctors for wireless health monitoring technology.

Currently, hospital patients must be connected to a combination of needles, wires, and conductive gels and adhesives to provide doctors with essential heart, brain, and muscle information. This is inconvenient for doctors and can beupsetting to patients. The electronic tattoo (dubbed the Epidermal Electronic System), on the other hand, can wirelessly transmit the needed information without additional bulky equipment. It can even be worn by heart patients outside the hospital, for long term heart monitoring that until now required bulky equipment worn around the clock.

The electronic tattoo is thin and flexible

The electronic tattoo is thin and flexible

Designing a chip flexible enough to move with skin was a challenge, since silicon circuitry is inflexible. The problem was solved using extremely thin components; the tattoo is thinner than a human hair. In testing, researchers discovered the tattoo was as accurate as current diode-based monitoring equipment.

Other medical applications are sure to develop. As eye doctors, we’d be interested in applying the technology to eye disease. For example, would it be possible to monitor a glaucoma patient’s eye pressure throughout the day and night? Or would it be possible to monitor the visual cortex of the brain for changes related to macular degeneration? With both diseases, early intervention is the key to preserving vision. Many times, even with current monitoring technology, we can detect changes in the eye’s function before the patient can. The new technology could be valuable in that changes might actually be detected in real time, as they happen.

The technology has many potential applications

The technology has many potential applications

Naturally, other sectors are keenly interested in the technology. The gaming industry is watching the technology closely, as it has already been proven 90% accurate in recognizing voice commands for video games when applied to the throat. The technology is so discreet that the US military and CIA have also shown interest. And, it would not be unthinkable that more questionable organizations are also planning uses for electronic tattoos. As such, there is some controversy surrounding the device: could it be used for tracking? Is it subject to medical identity theft? Could it be applied without a person’s knowledge?

In spite of these and other unanswered questions, we now have game-changing medical technology that has the potential to dramatically affect patients’ lives for the better.