"Bionic Eye" Implants Will Hit the U.S. Market This Year

FDA approves implant that restores sight to the blind

1 min read
"Bionic Eye" Implants Will Hit the U.S. Market This Year

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Today's the kind of day when you can see the future. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first treatment that can restore (limited) eyesight to (some) blind people. Despite the caveats, it's an exciting milestone.

The treatment involves electrodes implanted in the eyes of people whose retinas are damaged. The FDA approved the implants for people with severe cases of retinitis pigmentosa, a relatively small patient population. But the company that makes the implants, Second Sight Medical Products, says they can benefit a much broader group of people with vision problems, including many elderly people who suffer from macular degeneration. 

IEEE Spectrum covered the technology in "Birth of the Bionic Eye." Click through to that article for all the technical details of how the retinal implant system works, and what the experience of wearing one was like for one test subject, Barbara Campbell (pictured at right).

That article was part of our "Top Tech 2012" special report based on Second Sight's optimistic predictions that it would win FDA approval for the implants in the year 2012. So the company is a couple of months behind schedule in the United States, but its implants have been on the market in Europe since 2011. 

Second Sight isn't the only company working on retinal prostheses. We've also described a competing technology from the German company Retina Implant AG, whose system was undergoing clinical trials last year.

Photos: Second Sight, David Yellin 

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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