The futuristic operation was recently performed in Nantes’ University Hospital. Thanks to an epi-retinal implant equipped with 150 electrodes, a blind patient now leaves the darkness behind him. A world first, and a major advance towards bionic vision.
The jewel in the crown of French technology company PixiumVision is the Iris II retinal implant. It captures images using an intelligent camera which mimics the human eye, transforming light into electrical pulses which are then transmitted to the brain by implanted electrodes. The device can give patients with conditions such as hereditary retinitis pigmentosa the gift of bionic vision. Iris II has no fewer than 150 electrodes, three times more than any other current model. In time, this kind of implant may have thousands of electrodes.
The clinical studies necessary for the device’s commercialization are now under way, and the first patient, a 47 year-old man, has just been fitted with the artificial retina. The operation was performed at Nantes University Hospital with prompt success. The surgeon responsible, Professor Michel Weber recounts the moment the epi-retinal prosthesis was activated: “The patient had been completely blind for years. When we activated the implanted device, he immediately reported that he could detect the first light signals. He will now enter a rehabilitation program to learn to interpret these light signals, in accordance with the clinical protocol.“
As many as ten patients will receive an implant, in partnership with hospitals in France, Germany, Austria and the UK. Providing it obtains its CE mark, the marketing of the Iris II device may begin in only a few months. A decisive step towards bionic vision, and with few risks for the patients who pioneer the technique: the necessary surgery is not complicated, and the device can be removed if necessary. This makes it straightforward to upgrade or replace.
The Pays de la Loire at the cutting edge of gene therapy
The genetic diseases, especially those of the eye, constitute one of the key competencies in the Pays de la Loire. This expertise is developing in Atlantic Gene Therapies (70 researchers) and also at Atlantic Bio GMP.
Unique in Europe, the center, which was inaugurated in 2010, focuses on rare or incurable diseases such as Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Atlantic Bio GMP is also part of a consortium in charge of the pre-market gene therapy pilot project (PGT). Subsidized by central government within the framework of its Investments of the future project, and also supported by the Atlanpole Biotherapies competitivity cluster, its endowment of €20 million over 10 years should give it a powerful international advantage.