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Manchester patients among first to receive bionic eye implants

Five blind Manchester patients will be among the first in the country to receive revolutionary bionic eye implants, a ground breaking treatment pioneered by Professor Paulo Stanga from the School of Biological Sciences.

In December 2016, it was announced that NHS England will provide funding for further testing of the Argus II, also known as the ‘bionic eye’, for ten patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an inherited disease that causes blindness.

Five of the procedures will take place at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital from 2017, with the other half at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Surgeons at Manchester and Moorfields made history in 2009 by delivering the world's first trial of the Argus II bionic eye implants in RP. Professor Stanga also performed the first ever bionic eye implant on a patient with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2015.

Professor Paulo Stanga with 'bionic eye' patient Keith Hayman
Professor Paulo Stanga with 'bionic eye' patient Keith Hayman

Procedures will take place during 2017 and patients will then be monitored for a period of one year, during which they will be assessed on how the implants improve their everyday lives.

Professor Stanga says: "I'm delighted that our pioneering research has provided the evidence to support NHS England’s decision to fund the bionic eye for the first time for patients."

"Our work also has the potential to improve the lives of thousands of other patients with the more common condition, age-related macular degeneration – Manchester is currently the only site in the world to be trialing the bionic eye in AMD", added Professor Stanga.

Patients using the system are given an implant into their retina and a camera mounted on a pair of glasses sends wireless signals direct to the nerves which control sight. The signals are then ‘decoded’ by the brain as flashes of light.

"Having spent half my life in darkness, I can now tell when my grandchildren run towards me and make out lights twinkling on Christmas trees…  These little things make all the difference to me."

Keith Hayman / 'Bionic eye' implant patient

Grandfather-of-five from Lancashire, Keith Hayman, 68, was one of three people fitted with the bionic eye at Manchester Eye Hospital by Professor Stanga during a trial for Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2009, after being blind for 25 years.

He says; "Having spent half my life in darkness, I can now tell when my grandchildren run towards me and make out lights twinkling on Christmas trees."

"When I used to go to the pub, I would be talking to a friend, who might have walked off and I couldn't tell and kept talking to myself. This doesn't happen anymore because I can tell when they have gone. These little things make all the difference to me."

Bringing research to life with art

Earlier in 2016, artist Lucy Burscough brought the pioneering work of Professor Stanga to life with a unique art project showing how artificial and natural sight have been combined for the first time in history.

Created on site at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Ocular Bionica, an exquisitely painted stop-frame animated film, tells the story of 81-year-old Ray Flynn.

Artist Lucy Burscough creating Ocular Bionica at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Artist Lucy Burscough creating Ocular Bionica at Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Ray has AMD and underwent a four-hour operation to have the bionic eye implanted in June 2015.

He is the first person in the world to have combined artificial and natural vision. With the Argus II system switched on, he is now able to make out the outline of people and objects even with his eyes closed.

Lucy’s film is a world first – because it is able to show what this looks like for Ray.

Lucy spent time interviewing Ray and painted detailed and vivid pictures including Ray, Professor Stanga and his team, to illustrate the development of the study and how it came to change Ray’s life.

She says: "The film seeks to show viewers the world through Ray’s eyes, both before and after the device was fitted."

"I hope that the film will not only help viewers understand AMD and this amazing technology, but also might encourage more people to consider taking part in clinical trials just as Ray did."

Professor Stanga added: "Lucy’s work depicts unique aspects of sight loss for the very first time, which greatly adds to our understanding – and empathy with – a blind patient’s experience".

"On a personal level, this is a very moving as well as an exciting experience, to literally see through Ray’s eyes and experience the real visual function benefits Ray has gained from his artificial vision."


The film was exhibited at the Manchester Museum in October 2016 as part of the Manchester Science Festival.