NHS England has announced that it will provide funding for further testing of the Argus II, also known as the Bionic Eye.
Ten patients will undergo surgery to tackle Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an inherited disease that causes blindness.
The procedures will take place at Manchester Eye Hospital (MREH) and Moorfields Eye Hospital from 2017.
NHS England will fund this through its Commissioning through Evaluation (CtE) scheme, designed to gather vital evidence for treatments that show significant promise for the future. NHS England will assess how the Bionic Eye helps patients function with everyday tasks.
Surgeons at Manchester and Moorfields Eye Hospital made history by delivering the world’s first trial of the Argus II Bionic Eye implants in RP. Specialists at both Hospitals initially supported early studies, which demonstrated that the Argus II restores a degree of visual function to patients who have suffered complete blindness due to the condition.
Patients using the system, developed by American company Second Sight Medical Products, 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.
Grandfather-of-five from Lancashire, Keith Hayman, 68, was one of three people who had been fitted with the bionic eye at Manchester Eye Hospital during a trial for Retinitis Pigmentosa. He has been blind for 25 years having been diagnosed in his 20s while working as a butcher and was forced to give up work in 1981 when he was registered blind. 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. 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”
Professor Paulo Stanga from Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, University of Manchester, who performed Keith’s surgery, 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. It surpassed all of our expectations when we realised that one of the RP patients in Manchester using the bionic eye could identify large letters for the first time in his adult life.”
Grégoire Cosendai, VP of Europe for Second Sight Medical Products Inc, said: “Second Sight wishes to congratulate NHS England for this decision to make this truly revolutionary and life-changing technology available for patients. Argus II makes a real difference to blind people. It may be, for some patients, the difference between staying at home alone, or being able to find your way outside. Now this treatment is to be offered free of charge to blind patients in the UK. This is a major victory for blind people in the UK who have supported us in our six-year mission to fund Argus II in England.”
Dr Jonathan Fielden, Director of Specialised Commissioning and Deputy National Medical Director, NHS England said: “This highly innovative NHS-funded procedure shows real promise and could change lives. The NHS has given the world medical innovations ranging from modern cataract surgery, new vaccines and hip replacements. Now once again the NHS is at the forefront of harnessing ground-breaking science for the benefit patients in this country.”
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.