350 people have been cured of blindness with the help of a bionic eye.  Hardface AGAIN loses sight due to firm bankruptcy

350 people have been cured of blindness with the help of a bionic eye. Hardface AGAIN loses sight due to firm bankruptcy

About 350 people who partially cured blindness with the help of a bionic eye fear they will lose their sight for the second time after the company went bankrupt.

Los Angeles-based company Second Sight stopped manufacturing implants in 2019 and reportedly laid off its staff in the early months of the pandemic in 2020.

More than 350 patients around the world were then left with outdated and unsupported retinal implants, which cost around $500,000 per patient in total, with 80 percent covered by insurance.

Many now fear they will be left blind and without any help if the complicated implants fail and they have to face potentially painful surgery to remove the devices.

Barbara Campbell’s Argus II retinal implant system stopped working in 2013 while she was changing trains during rush hour.

At the time, she had already had an implant in her left eye for four years due to a genetic condition that left her completely blind in her 30s.

Terry Byland and his wife Sue shortly before surgery to implant an Argus II prosthesis in their left eye.

Terry Byland and his wife Sue shortly before surgery to implant an Argus II prosthesis in their left eye.

KPBF3M Implantation under general anesthesia of the Argus II retinal prosthesis (Second Sight), Department of Ophthalmology, Bordeaux Hospital, France

KPBF3M Implantation under general anesthesia of the Argus II retinal prosthesis (Second Sight), Department of Ophthalmology, Bordeaux Hospital, France

Diagram of the Argus bionic eye implantation system manufactured by Second Sight. Pictured: Argus Bionic Eye Implant System

Pictured: Argus Bionic Eye Implant System

Bionic eye provides “artificial” vision for users, but is not a cure

The bionic Second Sight implants did not cure the sufferers’ blindness, instead offering a form of artificial vision that restored some form of vision instead.

It works by linking images through a very small video camera attached to a pair of glasses worn by an implant patient.

These images are then converted into electrical impulses that are sent to the retina.

Users’ brains can then convert these pulses into patterns of light and partially restore users’ vision.

They will “see” in different shades of gray that change when they move their head.

Technology produces different results; some users may see the white stripes of a crosswalk or a person turning their head towards them.

But others try to define even the most basic shapes or patterns.

“I remember exactly where I was: I switched from train 6 to train F,” Campbell tells IEEE Spectrum.

“I was about to go down the stairs, and all of a sudden I heard a soft beep, beep, beep sound.

She was so horrified by the experience that she decided not to reinstall the device as others who held more optimistic views now faced their own nightmare.

Terry Byland is the only person to have had this Argus implant in both eyes, one in the right eye in 2004 and one in the left eye 11 years later.

But in 2020, Byland, who became a spokesperson for the company and even met Stevie Wonder at a conference, learned second-hand that Second Sight was on the brink of bankruptcy, abandoning implant technology.

He says he began to worry when the firm stopped contacting him about updates and other technology developments.

He told Spectrum, “As long as nothing happens, I’m fine. But if something goes wrong with him, then I’m done. Because there is no way to fix it.

“This is fantastic technology and a lousy company,” said another second sight patient, Ross Doerr.

Dorr received an implant in one eye in 2019 and learned in early 2020 that he was eligible for a retinal implant software update that could possibly further improve his vision.

KPBF3K Implantation under general anesthesia of the Argus II retinal prosthesis (Second Sight)

KPBF3K Implantation under general anesthesia of the Argus II retinal prosthesis (Second Sight)

Pictured: A diagram of a bionic eye implant showing how a camera, antenna, and video processing unit work together to create artificial vision.

Pictured: A diagram of a bionic eye implant showing how a camera, antenna, and video processing unit work together to create artificial vision.

Like Byland, Dorr became aware of the company’s plight in early 2020, at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortly thereafter, Dorr called his vision rehabilitation therapist when he was told the company had laid off all staff.

“She said, ‘Well, it’s funny that you called. We all just got fired,” he recalls.

“She said, ‘By the way, you’re not getting a promotion.’

While Campbell eventually received a third-party retinal implant, Byland and Dorr remain at the mercy of outdated technology that is expensive and painful to remove.

Pictured: Argus II bionic eye, video processing unit and camera system that attaches to sunglasses.

Pictured: Argus II bionic eye, video processing unit and camera system that attaches to sunglasses.

Second Sight did go public in June 2021 after discontinuing the retinal implant and nearly filing for bankruptcy, raising $57.5 million at $5 a share, with the company pledging to focus on brain implant clinical trials.

This implant, called Orion, also provides artificial vision, the company says.

Meanwhile, its share price continued to fall to around $1.50 in the following months, and in February 2022, Second Source announced a proposed merger with biopharmaceutical company Nano Precision Medical, effectively ending all updates and support for their Argus implant hardware.

Second Source executives, none of whom were added to the new company’s leadership team, did not immediately respond to the comment, but provided Spectrum with a statement to that effect.

“We are the recognized global leader in neuromodulation devices for the treatment of blindness and are committed to developing new technologies to treat the widest range of visually impaired people.”

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