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Landmark donations bring bionic eye closer to reality

Posted: 04 Dec 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Monash Vision Group  bionic eye  clinical trial 

The Monash Vision Group (MVG) has recently received $3M landmark funding to move closer to clinical trials of its Bionic Eye. Alan Finkel and Marc Besen, a couple of respected business leaders, each have donated $1 million to the cutting-edge project through their respective foundations. Monash University has committed an additional $1 million. The donations will cover critical development costs, helping MVG step toward the next phase of the project that will lead to the first human trials in 2015.

More than 50,000 people in Australia are considered clinically blind and the number exceeds 160 million globally. The bionic eye offers hope of restored vision to humankind and has the potential to change tens of thousands of lives.

One of the tiles from the Bionic Eye

One of the tiles from the Bionic Eye, which stimulates the visual cortex of the brain to produce patterns of light. Over time, the user learns to interpret these patterns as visual images.

Called the Gennaris, the bionic eye combines modern digital and biomedical technology with consumer-friendly glasses. A digital camera embedded in the glasses captures images from the user's environment. A vision processor extracts the most useful features from these images and a wireless transmitter presents this information to a series of tiles that are implanted at the back of the brain. Each tile, through hair-thin electrodes, then stimulates the visual cortex of the brain to produce patterns of light. Over time, the user learns to interpret these patterns as visual images.

Finkel said the bionic eye was a potential game-changer in treating vision impairment.

"I am familiar with many cutting-edge projects across our nation and none excites me more than this one. It has the potential to match and even exceed the success of the world's first cochlear implant, pioneered here in Melbourne in the 1970s. Three decades later, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have benefited," he said. "I believe the Gennaris Bionic Eye offers Australia a further opportunity to demonstrate its reputation for science and innovation."

Leaders in engineering, physiology, vision sciences, neurosurgery, ophthalmology and industrial design are involved in the ground-breaking project. MVG partners are Monash University, Grey Innovation, Alfred Health and MiniFAB.

The director of MVG, Arthur Lowery, said the funding comes at a critical, yet pivotal stage.

This is the first time the project has received philanthropic support. Since its establishment almost five years ago, MVG has attracted total funding of $25 million. The overwhelming majority has come from the government through the Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative in Bionic Vision Science and Technology and Monash University.

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