Australia's bionic eye project is about to start surgical implants

Ferdy Damman/AFP/Getty Images

Australia’s bionic eye is closer to being used by the blind to see again.

Bionic Vision Technologies has just raised $US18 million ($23.5 million) to develop and commercialise its devices aimed at restoring vision.

A trial of surgically implanted bionic eyes are due to start soon.

The funding from Hong Kong-based China Huarong International Holdings Ltd and State Path Capital Limited launches the project as a company and a commercial business.

So far the development of Australia’s bionic eye has been through a five-year, $50 million special research grant administered by the Australian Research Council.

The bionic eye was a finalist in the 2013 Eureka Awards and the 2013 Melbourne Awards.

Bionic Vision Australia consortium members, which now become shareholders alongside the new investors, are: University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales, the Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, CSIRO’s Data 61, The Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, Western Sydney University and the Australian College of Optometry.

The company will use the cash to manufacture devices and begin a human clinical trial of a bionic eye implant in patients with the inherited degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa.

The condition is the most common cause of inherited blindness and affects more than 1.5 million people worldwide.

State Path Capital Limited chairman Alastair Lam, the nephew of Hong Kong-based business magnate and philanthropist Li Ka-shing, says the investment aligns with the fund’s strategy of backing transformative technology with significant global potential.

“Given BVT’s (Bionic Vision Technologies) commitment to developing and delivering a revolutionary solution for vision loss, we believe its ‘bionic eye’ technology has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people and meet a large unmet need,” he says.

Bionic Vision Technologies executive chairman Robert Klupacs says the investment is an important milestone for this unique Australian technology.

“The funding will propel this Australian technology into clinical trials in coming months as we work towards securing regulatory approval and a commercial launch in key markets where loss of vision is a significant medical burden,” he says.

“There is currently no treatment for conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa and our new investors recognise BVT has developed a world-leading solution with potential to make a significant impact patient’s sight and lifestyle.”

The bionic eye implant is placed at the back of the eye where it stimulates nerve cells in the retina with electrical signals created from images collected by an externally worn camera.

Here’s how it works:

Bionic eye. Image: Supplied

Next stage clinical trials are scheduled to start in coming months in Melbourne.

Based on the results of the initial trial in 2012-2014, further patients will be recruited and monitored for up to two years.

A permanent device will be surgically implanted to wear in everyday activities. Early trials of the device only monitored patients in the clinic.

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