The device, called the Orion, is a modified version of Second Sight’s current Argus II bionic eye, which involves a pair of glasses outfitted with a camera and an external processor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted the company a conditional approval for a small study involving five patients at two sites, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of California, Los Angeles. Second Sight still needs to conduct further testing of the device and answer certain questions before starting the trial but hopes to begin enrolling patients in October and do its first implant by the end of the year.
Second Sight’s Orion device, borrows about 90 percent of its technology from the Argus II but bypasses the eye. Instead, an array of electrodes is placed on the surface of the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information. Delivering electrical pulses here should tell the brain to perceive patterns of light.
“In some types of blindness, the optic nerve is damaged so you have to go downstream. With the Orion, we’re essentially replacing the eye and the optic nerve completely,” Greenberg says. With this approach, “anyone who had vision but has lost it from almost any cause could potentially be helped by the Orion technology.”