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Second Sight implants Orion prosthesis in first human patient

06 Feb 2018

Use of company's Argus II implant is also growing, with clinical study of retinitis pigmentosa patients starting soon.

Second Sight has announced that the first human patient to receive the Orion cortical visual prosthesis system was implanted with the device in late January 2018, as part of a feasibility clinical study.

The Orion implant was fitted at UCLA Medical Center, one of the two locations involved in the small-scale study announced by the company in August 2017 after receiving conditional FDA approval. The other center is Houston's Baylor College of Medicine.

Second Sight, a California-based developer of visual prosthetics and retinal implants, also said that 30 of its existing Argus II devices intended to treat retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) were implanted during the fourth quarter of 2017. A total of 75 Argus II implantations took place during the year, compared with 42 during 2016.

A clinical study of better-sighted patients with RP is due to begin shortly in Germany, with enrollment of the first patients expected during the first quarter of 2018. Announcing the trial's approval by the German regulator in October 2017, the company indicated that it would examine the improvement of the visual field added by Argus II, and how well the system integrates into patients’ daily lives.

"We are excited about our milestones and achievements in 2017, which speak to the strength of our business and the momentum we expect for continued success in 2018," said CEO Will McGuire

Bypass the damaged retina
Second Sight called the first-in-human implant of the Orion a significant milestone, and a critical step forward in its development of devices that it believes could potentially treat nearly all forms of blindness. McGuire has previously described the ability to implant the Orion system as being one of the stated goals of Second Sight since its initial IPO in November 2014.

The Argus II system involves an external camera worn by the patient, which transmits visual information via a processor to an epiretinal implant placed in the inner surface of the retina. From this position the implant directly stimulates the innermost ganglion cells, bypassing the retina's other layers and avoiding the photoreceptors damaged by RP and AMD.

The Orion implant applies a similar principle but bypasses the eye altogether. It is implanted into the surface of the brain itself near the visual cortex, which it stimulates directly with the signals received from the wearable video camera after processing.

This architecture avoids the use of the damaged retina and the optic nerve altogether, in an analogous fashion to the principle behind cochlear implants as a treatment for deafness, and could therefore be of value in the treatment of multiple forms of vision loss. It does, however, involve more invasive surgery than an epiretinal implant. In addition, the precise workings of the brain's visual cortex are complex and still not fully understood.

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