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Bionic Eye – A New Look Of



CLASS: - 12
ROLL NO. : - 46


Topic page
1. Why this project? 2
2. Introduction 3
3. How we see 4
4. How a bionic eye works 6
5. What can people with a bionic eye actually see? 8
6. Biological limitations of bionic eyes 8
7. Major ongoing bionic eye projects 9
8. Conclusion 12

9. Bibliography 12


When my biology teacher asked me to select a project and he showed us a few examples, my thought
suddenly went to an eye disease which has a very difficult solution. The eye specialists call this disease –
Age related Macular degeneration in which the photoreceptors of the yellow spot of the gets degenerated.
The patients normally see a dark spot in their field of vision, and the only treatment apart from using a
donated eye is implanting a bionic eye in the patient. This devices intrigued me how a few such a small
device which consists of nothing but a camera and an array of electrodes can be a cure for such a
disease? As I did this project, I realized that some seemingly difficult problems have fascinatingly simple

1. Introduction:-
With nearly 40 million people suffering from blindness worldwide and another 124 million affected by low
vision, it's no surprise that researchers are intent on developing novel ways to restore sight. One such
effort is the development of a so-called bionic eye, also known as visual prosthetics or bionic eye

Several bionic eye implants are in development, but currently only one is available in the United States,
and it is suitable only for blindness caused by specific eye diseases. However, as research continues,
more and more people may soon benefit from high-tech bionic eyes.

A bionic eye is not the same thing as a prosthetic eye. Prosthetic eyes (also called "glass eyes" or
"artificial eyes") replace the physical structure and appearance of an eye that must be removed due to
trauma, pain, disfigurement or disease. Bionic eye implants, on the other hand, work inside the existing
eye structures or in the brain. They are designed to achieve functional vision goals — as opposed to
physical, cosmetic ones.

Just as there is no single cause for blindness, there's likewise no one cure. To determine whether a bionic
eye could help you see, it's important to know the reason(s) for your vision loss.

The process of sight begins when light enters the eye. The cornea and lens focus light onto the retina at
the back of the eyeball. Light-sensitive cells in the retina then convert the focused light into electrical
energy, which is transported to the brain via the optic nerve.

In blind people, part of this process doesn't work. In some cases, the cornea or lens is damaged or
diseased, or the retina can't perceive light. In others, the signal is lost somewhere along the visual
pathway in the brain.

Different bionic eye models take aim at different target areas in the visual pathway. Currently, retinal
implants are the only approved and commercially available bionic eyes, though cornea transplants and
cataract surgery can replace the cornea and lens if these structures are clouded or are incapable of
focusing light for other reasons.

2. How we see:-
The human eye belongs to a general group of eyes found in nature called "camera-type eyes." Just as a
camera lens focuses light onto film, a structure in the eye called the cornea focuses light onto a light-
sensitive membrane called the retina.

A. Structure of the eye:-

The cornea is a transparent structure found in the very front of the eye that helps to focus incoming light.

Situated behind the pupil is a colorless, transparent structure called the crystalline lens. A clear fluid called
the aqueous humor fills the space between the cornea and the iris. Behind the cornea is a colored, ring-
shaped membrane called the iris. The iris has an adjustable circular opening called the pupil, which can
expand or contract to control the amount of light entering the eye.

Ciliary muscles surround the lens. The muscles hold the lens in place but they also play an important role
in vision. When the muscles relax, they pull on and flatten the lens, allowing the eye to see objects that
are far away. To see closer objects clearly, the ciliary muscle must contract in order to thicken the lens.

The interior chamber of the eyeball is filled with a jelly-like tissue called the vitreous humor. After passing
through the lens, light must travel through this humor before striking the sensitive layer of cells called the
retina.The retina is the innermost of three tissue layers that make up the eye. The outermost layer, called
the sclera, is what gives most of the eyeball its white color. The cornea is also a part of the outer layer.

The middle layer between the retina and sclera is called the choroid. The choroid contains blood vessels
that supply the retina with nutrients and oxygen and remove its waste products. Embedded in the retina
are millions of light sensitive cells, which come in two main varieties: rods and cones.

Rods are used for monochrome vision in poor light, while cones are used for color and for the detection of
fine detail. Cones are packed into a part of the retina directly behind the retina called the fovea, which is
responsible for sharp central vision. When light strikes either the rods or the cones of the retina, it's
converted into an electric signal that is relayed to the brain via the optic nerve. The brain then translates
the electrical signals into the images a person sees.

B. Chemical reactions involved:-

For an image to be recognized, many photoreceptor cells will be activated and the visual information will
be transported to the brain via numerous nerve fibers. The brain then determines, according to which
nerve fibers carried the electrical impulse, which photoreceptors were activated by the light, and then
creates a picture.

As explained above, the vision process is initiated when photoreceptor cells are activated by light from an
image. Hence, our discussion of the vision process shall focus on the photoreceptor cells, and how these
cells are activated to generate a nerve impulse to the brain.

The retina is lined with many millions of photoreceptor cells that consist of two types: 7 million cones
provide color information and sharpness of images, and 120 million rods are extremely sensitive detectors
of white light to provide night vision. (The names of these cells come from their respective shapes.)

The outer segments (tops) of the rods and cones contain a region filled with membrane-bound discs,
which contain proteins bound to the chromophore 11-cis-retinal. (A chromophore is a molecule that can
absorb light at a specific wavelength, and thus typically displays a characteristic color.)

When visible light hits the chromophore, the chromophore undergoes an isomerization, or change in
molecular arrangement, to all-trans-retinal . When the chromophore absorbs a photon it isomerizes to the
all-trans configuration without (at first) any accompanying change in the structure of the protein (Figures 7
and 8). Rhodopsin containing the all-trans isomer of retinal is known as bathorhodopsin. However, the
trans isomer does not fit well into the protein, due to its rigid, elongated shape. While it is contained in the
protein, the all-trans chromophore adopts a twisted conformation, which is energetically unfavorable.
Therefore, a series of changes occurs to expel the chromophore from the protein.

For a signal to be sent via a nerve fiber, the Na+ channels must be closed so that a large charge
difference across the rod's outer membrane builds up. Once a large charge difference occurs, the
membrane is said to be hyperpolarized. Then, charge travels as an electrical impulse down the rod cell to
the synaptic terminal, where it is transferred to an adjoining nerve cell. How does this charge buildup

The starting point for this process is the production of metarhodopsin-II, produced during expelling of all-
trans retinol. This initiates the following cascade of events: First, metarhodopsin II complexes with the
enzyme transducin and activates it. Transducin in turn activates another enzyme, phosphodiesterase.
Phosphodiesterase catalyzes the hydrolysis of cyclic GMP.

Cyclic GMP is required to open Na+ channels in the plasma membrane. In the dark, cyclic GMP is
abundant and these channels stay open. Sodium cations enter freely into the rod cell, because the cell
typically has a lower potential (is more negative) than the external environment, thus attracting the
positively-charged ions.

However, when cyclic GMP is hydrolyzed (gains an H2O and breaks a bond) by the now-activated
phosphodiesterase, it is no longer available to keep the Na+ channels open. Sodium cations can no
longer enter the cell freely, and so the cell's potential suddenly becomes even lower relative to the
external environment. A large charge difference across the membrane is built up; this is known as
hyperpolarization. The large potential difference travels as an electrical impulse down the rod cell to the
synaptic terminal, and is then transferred to an adjoining nerve cell. The nerve cell carries this impulse all
the way to the brain. The brain then determines where the nerve impulse originated, and interprets the

Color vision in the cone cells operates by essentially the same process as the monochrome vision in the
rod cells. However, whereas the eye only has one type of rod cell, the eye has three different types of
cone cells. The differences between the three types of cone cells, as we shall see below, allow us to
distinguish colors.

3. How a Bionic Eye works:-

Bionic Eye is an artificial eye which provokes visual sensations in the brain by directly stimulating different
parts of the optic nerve. Bionic eye consist of electronic systems which consist of image sensors,
processors, receivers, radio transmitters and retinal chips.There are also other experimental implants that
can stimulate the ganglia cells on the retina or the visual cortex of the brain itself.

It comprises a computer chip which is kept in the back of the individual's eye, linked up using a mini video
camera built into glasses that they wear. Images captured by the camera are beamed to the chip, which
translates them into impulses that the brain can interpret.

Although the images produced by the artificial eye were far from perfect, they could be clear enough to
allow someone who is otherwise blind to recognize faces. The breakthrough is likely to benefit patients
with the most common cause of blindness, macular degeneration, which affects 500,000 people. This
occurs when there is damage to the macula, which is in the central part of the retina where light is focused
and changed into nerve signals in the middle of the brain. The implant bypasses the diseased cells in the
retina and stimulates the remaining viable cells.

A bionic eye implant that could help restore the sight of millions of blind people could be available to
patients within two years. This device is 2 millimeters across and contains some 3,500 micro photodiodes
which is placed behind the retina, this collection of miniature solar cells is designed to convert normal light
to electrical signals, which are then transmitted to the brain by the remaining healthy parts of the retina.

A Belgian device has a coil that covers around the optic nerve, with only four points of electrical contact.
By shifting the phase and varying the strength of the signals, the coil can stimulate different parts of the
optic nerve, rather like the way the electron guns in TVs are aimed at different parts of the screen. The
video signal is sent from an external camera and is transmitted to the implant through a radio antenna and
microchip under the skin just behind the ear.

Implants of a microchip, smaller than the head of a pin and about half the thickness of a sheet of paper
were used to remove blindness. The eye-position monitor controls the image camera's orientation. If the
image-acquisition camera is not mounted on the head, compensation for head movement will be needed.

Finally, if a retinal prosthesis is to receive power and signal input from outside the eye via an IR beam
entering the pupil, the transmitter must be aligned with the intraocular chip. The beam has played two
roles: one is to sends power, and another is to send pulse - or amplitude - modulated to transmit image
data. Using the control of eye movement, the main imaging camera for each eye can swivel in any
direction. Each of these cameras--located just outside the users' field of view to avoid blocking whatever
peripheral vision they might have captures the image of the outside world and transmits the information
through an optical fiber to a signal processing computer worn on the body.

The Argus II system uses a spectacle-mounted camera which is used to send information to electrodes in
the eye. Patients who tested less-advanced versions of the retinal implant were able to see light, shapes
and movement. The function of Bionic eye is to take real-time images from a camera and convert into tiny
electrical pulses that help the blind eyes to see.

1: Camera which is implanted on glasses helps to view the image

2: Signals are sent to hand-held device

3: The information which processed is sent back to glasses and wirelessly transmitted to receiver under
surface of eye.

4: Receiver sends information to electrodes in retinal implant.

5: Electrodes stimulate retina to send information to brain

Retinal implants can partially restore the vision of people with particular blindness caused by diseases
such as macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa. About one and half million people worldwide have
retinitis pigmentosa, and one in ten people over the age of fifty five have age-related macular
degeneration. Both diseases cause the retinal cells which process light at the back of the eye to gradually

The new device invented work by implanting an array of tiny electrodes into the back of the retina. A
camera is used to capture pictures which consist of a processing unit about the size of a small handheld
computer and worn on a belt helps to convert the visual information into electrical signals. These are then
sent back to the glasses and wirelessly on to a receiver just under the surface of the front of the eye,
which in turn feeds them to the electrodes at the rear.

4. What can people with a bionic eye
actually see?
It’s easy to imagine people with a bionic eye suddenly having sight better than Superman, or experiencing
some sort of ‘Terminator’ vision. But the reality, while exciting if you’ve spent years in the dark, is far less

When a patient receives a bionic eye implant (either retinal or cortical), they will not suddenly experience
the same level of vision as a person with two healthy eyes. Initially, their vision will still be very basic.
They may be able to distinguish between darkness and light, or see flickering light and movement in a
pixilated form, akin to black and white low-resolution images. Most likely, the ‘image’ they will see will
consist of a series of dozens to hundreds of dots of light, configured in a way that will help them navigate
the world around them. This is due to the current limitations of the technology, coupled with the patient
needing to ‘retrain their brain’ to understand and interpret the visual input it is ‘seeing’.

What the patient will be seeing is known as phosphene vision. A phosphene is a perceived ring or spot of
light in the visual field. It can be produced via pressure on the eyeball, direct stimulation of the visual
system (such as via electrodes) or even by a blow to the head, i.e. ‘seeing stars’. This is essentially the
experience of seeing light without light actually entering the eye. As the technology improves and further
electrodes are added to each implant, more phosphenes will be generated. This will result in patients
being able to distinguish even greater levels of detail.

One of the challenges for researchers is that the retina is a complex structure of the eye. It contains a
large variety of cells, all responsible for distinct visual information, and all of which respond differently to
visual input.

When the retina is electrically stimulated via the bionic implant, it excites all of the cells at the same time.
This is different to how these cells react in a healthy eye that is receiving ‘real’ visual input via light. The
result of over-stimulation means that patients may see blurred outlines, fuzzy contours, indistinct shapes
or they may ‘lose’ visual input if an object is moving too fast. Researchers are continuing to work out how
to advance implants to produce improved, more natural vision.

5. Biological limitations of Bionic eyes:-

The ability to give sight to a blind person via a bionic eye depends on the circumstances surrounding the
loss of sight. For retinal prostheses, which are the most prevalent visual prosthetic under development
(due to ease of access to the retina among other considerations), patients with vision loss due to
degeneration of photoreceptors (retinitis pigmentosa, choroideremia, geographic atrophy macular
degeneration) are the best candidate for treatment. Candidates for visual prosthetic implants find the
procedure most successful if the optic nerve was developed prior to the onset of blindness. Persons born
with blindness may lack a fully developed optical nerve, which typically develops prior to birth, though
neuroplasticity makes it possible for the nerve, and sight, to develop after implantation.

6. Major Ongoing Bionic Eye Projects:-
1. Argus retinal prosthetics:-
Mark Humayun, who joined the faculty of the Keck School of Medicine of USC Department of
Ophthalmology in 2001; Eugene Dejuan, now at the University of California San Francisco; engineer
Howard D. Phillips; bio-electronics engineer Wentai Liu, now at University of California Los Angeles; and
Robert Greenberg, now of Second Sight, were the original inventors of the active epi-retinal prosthesis
and demonstrated proof of principle in acute patient investigations at Johns Hopkins University in the early
1990s. In the late 1990s the company Second Sight was formed by Greenberg along with medical device
entrepreneur, Alfred E. Mann.

Their first-generation implant had 16 electrodes and was implanted in six subjects by Humayun at
University of Southern California between 2002 and 2004.In 2007, the company began a trial of its
second-generation, 60-electrode implant, dubbed the Argus II, in the US and in Europe. In total 30
subjects participated in the studies spanning 10 sites in four countries.

In the spring of 2011, based on the results of the clinical study which were published in 2012, Argus II was
approved for commercial use in Europe, and Second Sight launched the product later that same year. The
Argus II was approved by the United States FDA on 14 February 2013. Three major US government
funding agencies (National Eye Institute, Department of Energy, and National Science Foundation) have
supported the work at Second Sight, USC, UCSC, CalTech, and other research labs.

2. Tübingen MPDA Project Alpha IMS:-

Researchers in Germany have unveiled their latest addition to the bionic eye ‘family’. The technology was
developed by the University of Tubingen in Germany and is known as the Alpha IMS retinal prosthesis.

The Alpha IMS is a retinal implant consisting of a silicon chip approximately 3 x 3mm in size and 70µm
thick, which is surgically implanted behind the retina. In this way, it replaces the photoreceptors that have
been damaged or lost, and importantly, its sub-retinal location has the potential to exploit the full range of
neuronal circuitry in the retina along the way to the optic nerve. This is not yet confirmed however, as the
retinal circuitry is reorganized to varying degrees by blindness, so the processing may not be so useful

This small electrode is wirelessly connected to a tiny computer placed underneath the skin behind the ear.
A magnetic coil on the skin allows the implant to be adjusted for brightness, and power is provided via a
battery pack.

The Alpha IMS currently has several differences to its competitors. Firstly, it is self-contained, so there is
no external camera used. While this results in a less bulky device, there are trade-offs. The advantage of
an external camera is the access to large processing power that can be applied to the sign before it is
sent to the implant, which can improve the vision experience.

The second difference is that the implant consists of 1500 electrodes (the current ARGUS II only has 60).
This has the potential to provide users with extremely high levels of visual acuity and resolution.
Interestingly though, testing has shown that despite the larger number of electrodes in the Alpha IMS, the
device performed no better in visual tests than the Second Sight Argus II 60 electrode system. The
researchers theorized that other factors such as the severity of the retinal degeneration, cortical
remodeling, electrode-tissue interface and psychological factors such as a patient’s willingness to
participate in intensive rehabilitation may be more important.

n clinical trials, eight of the nine patients fitted with the Alpha IMS were able to detect mouth shapes
(smiles/frowns), signs on doors, small objects such as phones and cutlery—even if a glass of wine was
red or white.

A further potential benefit is that because the Alpha IMS has an in-built sensor that works to directly
gather its imagery from the light that passes into the eye (rather than from an external camera), users are
able to simply move their eyeballs from side to side to pick up stimuli. This is easier than having to turn
their head so that a camera is directly facing the image for capturing.

3. Bionic Vision Australia:-

An Australian team led by Professor Anthony Burkitt is developing two retinal prostheses. The Wide-View
device combines novel technologies with materials that have been successfully used in other clinical
implants. This approach incorporates a microchip with 98 stimulating electrodes and aims to provide
increased mobility for patients to help them move safely in their environment. This implant will be placed
in the suprachoroidal space. Researchers expect the first patient tests to begin with this device in 2013.

The Bionic Vision Australia consortium is concurrently developing the High-Acuity device, which
incorporates a number of new technologies to bring together a microchip and an implant with 1024
electrodes. The device aims to provide functional central vision to assist with tasks such as face
recognition and reading large print. This high-acuity implant will be inserted epiretinally. Patient tests are
planned for this device in 2014 once preclinical testing has been completed.

Patients with retinitis pigmentosa will be the first to participate in the studies, followed by age-related
macular degeneration. Each prototype consists of a camera, attached to a pair of glasses which sends the
signal to the implanted microchip, where it is converted into electrical impulses to stimulate the remaining
healthy neurons in the retina. This information is then passed on to the optic nerve and the vision
processing centres of the brain.

The Australian Research Council awarded Bionic Vision Australia a $42 million grant in December 2009
and the consortium was officially launched in March 2010. Bionic Vision Australia brings together a
multidisciplinary team, many of whom have extensive experience developing medical devices such as the
cochlear implant (or ‘bionic ear’).

4. Ceramic photocells:-
Scientists at the Space Vacuum Epitaxy Centre (SVEC) based at the University of Houston, Texas, uses
a new material, comprising tiny ceramic photocells that detects incoming light and repair malfunctioning

human eyes. Scientists at SVEC are conducting preliminary tests on the biocompatibility of this ceramic
detector. The artificial retinas constructed by SVEC consist of 1, 00,000 tiny ceramic detectors,
each1/20th the size of a human hair. The assemblage is so small that surgeons can’t safely handle it. So,
the arrays are attached to a polymer film one millimeter in size. After insertion into an eyeball, the polymer
film will simply dissolve leaving only the array behind after a couple of weeks.

• It helps to correct the vision.
• There is no necessity to suffer from long and short sights.
• It can be easily implanted
• It is the one approved by FDA

• There are 120 million rods and 6 million cones in the retina of every healthy human eye.
• Creating an artificial replacement for these is a risky task.
• Si based photo detectors have been tried in earlier attempts. But Si is toxic to the human body and
reacts unfavorably with fluids in the eye
• It cost about 30,000$
• It will not be helpful for glaucoma patients.

5. Direct to brain bionic eye

The Monash Vision Group (MVG)—a collaboration between Monash University, miniFAB, Grey Innovation
and Alfred Health—has taken a different direction, developing a direct-to-brain, or ‘cortical’ bionic eye.
Known as the Gennaris bionic vision system, this technology will completely bypass the optic nerve
(effectively, it’s a bionic eye system that does not use the eye at all). This makes it suitable for people who
have optic nerve damage (a result of glaucoma, diabetes, eye trauma etc). The developers are confident
up to 85 per cent of people who are clinically blind could benefit.

Like the retinal-based bionic eye, the technology consists of both internal and external components.
Specialized glasses containing a digital camera and movement sensors will capture images, while a small
digital processor and wireless transmitter situated on the glasses’ rim will transfer the image the patient is
‘seeing’ to an implant which has been inserted at the back of the brain (directly on the surface of the visual
cortex). The implant stimulates the visual cortex via an array of micro-sized electrodes, which create a
visual pattern from combinations of up to 473 spots of light (known as phosphenes). Over time, the brain
will learn to understand and interpret these signals as ‘sight’.

The Monash Vision Group is planning for first patient implantations to begin by the end of 2016.

In all cases, users of this technology must learn to understand and interpret these light flashes and visual
patterns—a process which can take some time.

7. Conclusion
The successful development of a bionic eye has the potential to change lives in a very real, very hands-on
way. Restoring even basic sight to those with impaired vision may allow them to become more mobile and
independent, and return to them some of the quality of life they lost when their vision disappeared. After
years of darkness, imagine being able to once again read or to see your loved ones’ smiles. As the
technology improves, this may all be possible. However, as with most scientific breakthroughs, it requires
a lot of time and a lot of money to bring it to fruition. The bionic ear is now a reality that has helped many
thousands of people; let’s hope the bionic eye is not too far behind.

8. Bibliography

2. Biology Today magazines
4. Dr. Santosh Kr. Ghosh - Eminent eye specialist
6. My respected biology teacher- Subhamoy Sir
7. NCERT Biology textbook