Bionic eye implant provides hope to millions

Partially sighted pensioner Raymond Flynn shows off his sight-restorinig gadget. Picture: PA
Partially sighted pensioner Raymond Flynn shows off his sight-restorinig gadget. Picture: PA
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A PARTIALLY sighted pensioner has had his central vision restored for the first time in nearly a decade after he received a “bionic eye”.

Ray Flynn, 80, from Manchester, is the world’s first patient with advanced dry age related macular degeneration (AMD) to undergo the procedure.

I can now walk round the garden and see things

Ray Flynn, patient

The retired engineer, who has peripheral vision, is also believed to be the first human being to have the use of combined natural and artificial sight.

Mr Flynn has experienced deteriorating central vision for the last eight years which has affected his quality of life but he is now looking forward to a clearer view of his beloved Manchester United on television.

The keen gourmet cook also cannot wait to read recipes without the use of a magnifying glass. AMD is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world with between 20 and 25 million sufferers worldwide.

Mr Flynn is affected by dry AMD which does not affect his outer vision but is currently untreatable.

The Argus II retinal implant that he received last month at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital in a four-hour procedure has already been successfully used worldwide on more than 130 patients with the rare eye disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP). However those patients, unlike Mr Flynn, had no peripheral vision.

Developed by Second Sight Medical Products, it works by converting video images captured by a miniature camera housed in the patient’s glasses into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to electrodes on the surface of the retina.

These pulses stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.

The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns to regain some visual function. Mr Flynn’s system was turned on for the first time on 1 July and tests showed that he could make out the outline of people and objects even with his eyes closed.

Mr Flynn says he is taking things slowly as he gets used to the system but is already benefiting in his everyday life.

He said: “Before when I was looking at a plant in the garden it was like a honeycomb in the centre of my eye. That has now disappeared. I can now walk round the garden and see things.

“It’s definitely improved my vision but I haven’t been out and about on a bus yet. I don’t think I will for a little while.”

Unmarried Mr Flynn was a regular at Old Trafford in his younger days and also regularly watched Manchester United play in Europe.

His brother, Pete, 77, said: “We don’t miss a game on the television but he can’t make out the players on the pitch and he can only watch if he sits in a certain position and looks from the corner of his eye.

“It gets very tiring for him so watching the first game of the season should be a new experience.”

Professor Paulo Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, said: “Mr Flynn’s progress is truly remarkable. He is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively.

“Ray had to do everything with his peripheral vision – it’s very tiring, it is exhausting, What we are hoping to achieve is to improve Ray’s central vision so that he does not have to work so hard with his peripheral vision.”