In addition to AI, machine learning and gene therapy, other developments in eye healthcare include the use of robotics in eye surgery and the development of a bionic eye capable of restoring human vision.
The first eye health research to determine whether robots can perform eye surgery safely and effectively has been acclaimed a success.
Carried out at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, the study involved 12 patients. Six received robot-assisted surgery and the remaining six standard manual surgery to remove a membrane from the back of the eye.
Using the robot, the surgeon was able to perform the procedure as effectively or better than with the traditional manual approach.
In the trial’s second phase, the team used the robot to insert a fine needle under the retina to dissolve blood in three patients who had age-related macular degeneration. All experienced an improvement in their vision as a result.
Robert MacLaren, Professor of ophthalmology, says: “This is a huge leap forward for delicate and technically difficult surgery, which in time should significantly improve the quality and safety of this kind of operation.”
The trial was conducted by the University of Oxford, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. Results were published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
The trial builds on earlier pioneering work at the John Radcliffe Hospital, which in 2016 carried out the world’s first robotic eye operation.
A five-year study of a bionic eye tested by five patients with little or no sight marks a big step forward in eye health research, according to preliminary reports.
But the researchers stress they are a long way from achieving full vision for their research subjects. For example, a patient may be able to see an object without knowing if it is a mug or a baseball.
William Bossing, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, Texas, says the research was designed to enhance optimal interface between the Orion bionic eye and the brain to enable the research participants to see forms and shapes.
Surgically implanted in the brain, the Orion includes a camera mounted on a pair of image-capturing eyeglasses. It delivers patterns of stimulation directly to the visual part of the brain; in other words, it can bypass broken optical nerves.
Daniel Yoshor, Baylor professor of neurosurgery, explains: When you think of vision, you think of the eyes, but most of the work is being done in the brain. Impulses of light projected on to the retina are converted into neural signals that are transmitted along the optic nerve to parts of the brain.”