Moorfields patient receives bionic chip implant in blind eye

A patient at Moorfields Eye Hospital has been able to detect electronically generated visual signals with her blind left eye, thanks to a successfully implanted microchip. She is the first UK patient to receive this new device as part of the PRIMAvera study, a Europe-wide clinical trial for the new technology.

The implant offers the hope of partially restored vision for people with geographic atrophy (GA), which is the most common form of dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Dry AMD will affect 4.8% of those over 65 and 12% of those over 80, while GA affects 6.7% of the over 80s.

This bionic chip will potentially have a significant positive impact on the quality of life for people with the condition.

The procedure to insert the device took place in early December 2021. The operation involves inserting a 2mm-wide microchip under the centre of the patient’s retina, by surgically creating a trapdoor into which the chip is posted.

Patient wearing prototype glasses

Patient with bionic implant

Dr Mahi Muqit

Dr Mahi Muqit

The study is being led by Dr Mahi Muqit, consultant vitreoretinal surgeon at Moorfields, honorary clinical lecturer at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, and National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) research investigator. Dr Muqit, who carried out the surgery back in December and switched on the device this week, said:

“This ground-breaking device offers the hope of restoration of sight to people suffering vision loss due to dry AMD. The success of this operation, and the evidence gathered through this clinical study, will provide the evidence to determine the true potential of this treatment.”

For the device to complete the task of delivering vision to the patient, it relies on special glasses containing a video camera connected to a small computer, which is attached to a waistband worn by the patient. The process works as follows:

  1. The chip captures the visual scene projected by the glasses and transmits this to the computer.

  2. Artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms process this information and send instructions back to the camera, having the glasses focus on what the AI perceives to be the main object in the image.

  3. The glasses project this focused image as an infra-red beam through the eye to the chip, which in turn converts this beam into an electrical signal.

  4. This electrical signal passes through the retina cells and the optical cells into the brain, where it is interpreted as if it were natural vision.

Four to six weeks after being inserted, the chip is tested by being switched on, at which stage the patient should be able to see a signal.

Glasses being adjusted

The Moorfields patient will now go through a rehabilitation programme to learn how to use the new vision they have gained. One of the main aims of the study is to quantify the level of vision that is restored and the speed at which the processing takes place.

When the rehabilitation is complete, patients will potentially be able to recognise items as small as words, and be able to read again.

The patient, an 88-year-old women who has seven children and eight grandchildren, is the first in the UK to benefit from this implant, said:

“Losing the sight in my left eye through dry AMD has stopped me from doing the things I love, like gardening, playing indoor bowls and painting with watercolours. I am thrilled to be the first to have this implant, excited at the prospect of enjoying my hobbies again, and I truly hope that many others will benefit from this too.”

The NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre will be following the PRIMAvera study closely to see how well the device and rehabilitation works for this and future patients. We will continue to support the trial as it progresses.