Blind woman becomes first in Quebec to try 'bionic eye'
Published Friday, August 25, 2017 2:20PM EDT
A Quebec woman has become the first in her province to receive “a bionic eye” implant that lets her see light and shadow where once she saw only darkness.
Sandra Cassell was diagnosed 16 years ago with retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, a rare incurable eye disease that slowly took away her eyesight.
But last spring, Cassell underwent surgery at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal to implant a device called the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System.
The system has two parts: the first is a prosthesis the size of a pencil eraser that was surgically implanted onto Cassell’s left retina. The second part involves a pair of eyeglasses that have a built-in video camera.
Information from the camera is wirelessly transmitted to electrodes in the implant and converted into electrical pulses. These pulses are turned into images, which are transmitted to the brain, explained ophthalmologist Dr. Flavio Rezende.
“It's like a piece of computer that we put in the retina, and then according to whatever stimulus she is receiving from her camera, the electrodes stimulate the retina cells and this impulse is sent to the brain and patient understands as images,” he said.
The four-hour operation to install the device is a medical first in Quebec.
Now, thanks to the implant, Cassell can see light for the first time in years. She doesn’t have full vision but she does see things in black, white and grey, much like an ultrasound picture.
“I can finally see the silhouettes of my children for the first time. That has no price,” she said in a statement.
The device will now assist Cassell with everyday tasks, helping her recognize people and distinguish the outlines of large objects.
For Cassell, who had known only darkness for more than a decade, re-learning to see again was not simple. She needed to work with a rehab team for weeks to learn how to make sense of what the implant was allowing her to see.
Because of the amount of rehab involved, only a few patients with RP would make good candidates for the bionic eye, which costs more than $150,000 per patient to implant
Doctors at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto have also successfully implanted the device in patients.
Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital says they are now searching for the next patient with the right cognitive and vision characteristics who would make a good candidate for the device.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Vanessa Lee