NHS England to fund Bionic Eye Surgery

NHS England has today 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 Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Manchester Eye Hospital (MREH) 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 Moorfields and Manchester 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.

John Thomas, a patient at Moorfields Eye Hospital, was the first person in Europe to have the device fitted, and says, "When I had the device fitted, I had been totally blind for ten years, and felt privileged to take part in the development of the 'bionic eye'. As a child I suffered from night blindness. I was diagnosed with RP during my National Service in the Army at the age of 20, and throughout my adult life I experienced progressively diminishing peripheral vision, though fortunately I still had some useful vision until I was 60. And while I've led a very fulfilling life, as a university teacher, working for the BBC and as a consultant and trainer in distance education, I took part in the trial mainly to help future generations living with RP. This research has to start somewhere and with someone, and I hope that I may have made a difference to someone's life by playing a small part in such a pioneering project."

Professor Lyndon da Cruz, consultant retinal surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital said:
“For patients with RP who have profound vision loss, the long-term benefits of this technology in restoring some useful vision can be life-changing. Our work at Moorfields has shown that the Argus II can increase patients’ functional vision for many years after implantation which represents significant progress in the evolution of artificial sight.

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.

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Notes to editors

Contact details:

For patient enquiries, please email the Moorfields research team on res-admin@Moorfields.nhs.uk

For press enquiries, please contact the Moorfields Eye Hospital Press Office on press.office@moorfields.nhs.uk or call 020 7566 2628. 

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