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Regulators have granted permission for the trial to go ahead at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. A Star Trek-style bionic vision system is to be tested on up to 10 British patients who have lost their sight.
The Iris II system developed by French company Pixium Vision uses a bio-inspired camera to stimulate a retinal implant and send image signals to the brain.
Patients don dark goggles reminiscent of the eye-wear worn by blind Star Trek lieutenant commander Geordi La Forge.
Other trials of the system are taking place in France, Germany and Austria.
The British study will include patients suffering from the conditions retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Usher syndrome, cone-rod dystrophy, and choroideremia, all of which can lead to blindness.
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Consultant ophthalmologist Dr Mahi Muqit, who is leading the Moorfields trial, said: “We are excited to participate in the clinical trial of Iris II and be the first site in the UK.
“Patients with RP can now benefit from a new choice of retinal implant that may potentially further improve visual outcomes.
This new clinical trial is key for ophthalmic reference centres like Moorfields to evaluate the latest technologies.”
A number of competing retinal implant systems are being developed by private companies and institutions around the world.
At the heart of Iris II is a small silicon chip with 150 electrodes that is implanted on to the retina.
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A video camera integrated into the goggles sends images to a smartphone-sized portable computer, which converts them to electrical signals.
These are transmitted wirelessly to the implant which in turn stimulates the optic nerve.
After surgery, patients have to learn to use the system, but with practice are able to “see” black, white and grey shapes.
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No starting date has yet been set for the trial, which has been approved by UK medical device regulators the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).