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King’s College Hospital in London is to carry out the first operation to insert a permanent “bionic” eye which has already restored sight to blind patients, according to this article.

The team will start testing on the ‘bionic’ eye in March. This follows a successful trial in Germany where three patients were able to see again just days after being fitted with the implant. In the German trial, the chip was taken out after three months but the UK patients will have it implanted for life as scientists have developed a new coating which is safer for permanent use. The device is packed with 1,500 light sensors designed to replace those in the retina lost to the most common form of eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa. The inherited condition gradually destroys the light sensitive retina at the back of the eye, causing blindness.

About six patients will be chosen for the King’s trial by the start of February. It will then take experts a month to tailor the implant for each individual patient. Another six patients will be recruited for a trial at the Oxford Eye Hospital.

Bionic eyes have been piloted before. But this battery-powered implant is the first that doesn’t require cumbersome accessories such as a camera mounted on dark glasses. The implant is tiny –  only three millimetres square. It is fitted with sensors which trigger an electronic pulse that stimulates nerves leading to the brain enabling patients to see a rough black and white image.

The German company, Retina Implant AG, which is behind the implant hopes it will become widely available within five years. Miikka Terho was one of the first patients treated with the implant in the German trial. Completely blind before, he was able to tell the time from a clock face, read his name and correct spelling errors.

So what does this amazing new treatment mean for people? Well, according to one of the surgeons, this artificial vision could greatly enhance the quality of life for people with retinitis pigmentosa. Doctors hope it could also be used to treat blindness caused by age-related macular degeneration. This is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly and affects about 500,000 people in Britain.

At AllClear, we are pretty impressed by this treatment because although it sounds like it could be something out of a science fiction film, it really can help people who are blind change their life entirely. This is important to us because we believe that everyone deserves to travel, and experience other parts of the world, and this new ‘bionic eye’ could really help people do just that. You can read more about travelling with a disability here, or check out AllClear to get travel insurance that covers medical conditions….