- An implanted electrode array behind the retina receives the stimulation patterns from the user’s glasses and stimulates the eye.
- Those of us with this implant are figuratively and literally in the dark.
- Instead, we are dependent on software upgrades, proprietary methods and parts, and the commercial drivers and success or failure of for-profit ventures.
Hundreds of people who received retinal implants to improve their vision now face an uncertain future because the technology they relied on is no longer available as reported by BBC.
Second Sight ceased production of its Argus II bionic eyes several years ago in order to concentrate on a brain implant.
It is now looking to merge with a biopharmaceutical company that does not create eye implants, according to IEEE Spectrum, which broke the storey.
The BBC contacted Second Sight, but they have yet to answer.
Adam Mendelsohn, chief executive of Nano Precision Medical, with which Second Sight is planning to merge, told the BBC it would consider the issues raised by IEEE once the merger, scheduled for mid-2022 – was completed.
“I do intend to make this one of our priorities if and when I assume my leadership position in the combined company,” Mr Mendelsohn said.
According to Second Sight’s website, its Argus II offers life-changing benefits for those with sight impairment, including “enjoying mobility and independence”.
“Our mission is to develop neuro-stimulation technology to enhance the lives of blind individuals while supporting our current users,” it says.
But IEEE Spectrum reports that Second Sight actually discontinued its retinal implants – which effectively take the place of photoreceptors in the eye to create a form of an artificial vision – in 2019.
Surgery to implant the device typically takes a few hours and is followed by post-op training to help users interpret the signals from their devices.
As technology improves, so will your Argus II implant – without the need for additional surgery.
“Enjoy programming flexibility and the capacity for future hardware and software upgrades.”
The camera on the glasses sends video to the VPU, which converts the images to patterns of black and white pixels and sends them back to a responder in the glasses, which in turn beams them wirelessly to an antenna on the outside of the eye.
It’s clever and innovative tech, which has taken decades to create and was not cheap – estimated at around $150,000 (£110,000) excluding surgery and post-surgery training.
In the dark
But patients contacted by IEEE Spectrum voiced concern.
One, Ross Doerr, said Second Sight failed to contact any of its patients after its financial difficulties in 2020.
“Those of us with this implant are figuratively and literally in the dark,” he said.
It has since contacted users and doctors, saying it will do its best to “provide virtual support”.
But no repairs or replacements are possible for the implants.
Elizabeth M Renieris, professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame, in the US, described the development as a cautionary tale.
She told the BBC: “This is a prime example of our increasing vulnerability in the face of high-tech, smart and connected devices which are proliferating in the healthcare and biomedical sectors.”
“These are not like off-the-shelf products or services that we can actually own or control.
Instead, we are dependent on software upgrades, proprietary methods and parts, and the commercial drivers and success or failure of for-profit ventures.”
Ethical considerations around such technology should in future include “autonomy, dignity, and accountability”, she added.
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