A man who has been blind for 30 years has taken part in an experimental procedure at a London hospital to artificially restore his vision -- with a bionic eye. Ron, who has not revealed his surname, says he is now able to see the difference between white, grey and black socks, and follow white road markings.
The bionic eye, known as Argus II according to the BBC, uses a series of electrodes attached to the 73-year-old's retina, wired to a small sensor on the exterior of the eye.
A pair of sunglasses use a tiny camera and image processor to capture light, which is then sent via the sensor on the eye to the electrodes on the retina. These electrodes send electrical signals via the optic nerve to the brain, which interprets them as an image.
The surgery was performed seven months ago at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, using the bionic-eye technology developed by US company Second Sight. It targets patients who have suffered retinal degeneration from a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, a type of hereditary retinal dystrophy, for which there is no medical treatment.
According to Dr Michel Michaelides on the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society's Web site, the condition affects one in 3,000 to 4,000 people. An estimated 22,500 people are affected in the UK.
The hope is that this kind of bionic eye treatment will lead to patients drawing meaningful images from the technology. It's early days, but for Ron to go from 30 years of blindness to being able to operate a washing machine -- his wife wasted no time in teaching him -- is an enormously encouraging first step.