Bionic eye research at UNSW will benefit from an $8 million funding boost from the Australian Research Council (ARC) over the next year, announced today by Innovation Minister Senator Kim Carr.
Researchers from the UNSW Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering are part of the Bionic Vision Australia consortium, which is developing two prototype devices that could help restore sight in people with degenerative eye conditions.
“The extension of funding is a vote of confidence not only in our achievements thus far, but also the promising outcomes we expect in the coming months,” says Associate Professor Gregg Suaning from UNSW.
“It means the remarkable progress we have already made can be completed, and the benefits to the blind community we envisioned can be realised,” he says.
Suaning leads development of the wide-view device, which is suitable for people with retinitis pigmentosa, and is expected to restore sight in patients to a level where they can perceive shapes, differentiate between light and dark, and more independently navigate their environment.
The key feature is an implant with 98 electrodes that will stimulate surviving nerve cells in the retina – a layer of tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses necessary for sight.
For their pioneering work on developing a bionic eye, two UNSW engineers have been honoured with a prestigious research achievement award.
Scientia Professor Nigel Lovell and Associate Professor Gregg Suaning have received the Bartimaeus Award for internationally recognised contributions to the field of vision restoration by way of neural prosthesis.
“This award is among the highest honours one can receive in our field, which investigates the development of implantable vision-restoring devices. It is certainly the highest honour I’ve received,” said Suaning from the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering (GBME).
“It was actually a real shock when our names were announced,” said Lovell, also from the GBME. “We certainly weren’t expecting it, but are both very excited and humbled to receive this honour.”
Suaning and Lovell spearheaded the bionic eye research effort at UNSW more than a decade ago, when they were tearing apart old stereos and children’s toys to salvage electronic components for their devices.
Now their UNSW team is part of Bionic Vision Australia and leads the development of the wide-view device, the first of two prototypes aimed at restoring vision in people with degenerative retinal conditions.
The fabrication of implantable electronics has begun at the University of New South Wales ahead of planned patient tests of a functional bionic eye next year, researchers say.
A brand new $2.5 million facility opened last week by NSW Chief Scientist Professor Mary O’Kane is giving bionic vision researchers the on-campus capability to produce their own medical implants to the highest quality and safety standard.
“Our primary aim is to complete the first prototypes of the bionic eye so they can be tested in human recipients in 2013,” says Professor Gregg Suaning from the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering at UNSW.
Suaning leads development of Bionic Vision Australia’s wide-view device, the first of two prototypes aimed at restoring vision in people with degenerative retinal conditions.
The key feature of the device is an implant with 98 electrodes, made of biocompatible materials, which will stimulate surviving nerve cells in the retina – a layer of tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses necessary for sight.