Advanced dry age-related macular degeneration (dry-AMD) is a common eye disorder among people over 65, causing blurred or reduced central vision. AMD makes everyday activities more difficult, such as the ability to see faces, drive, read, write, or cook, which can lead to reduced independence. The condition is a leading cause of irreversible vision loss, with an estimated 4 million people lacking an approved treatment option to restore their vision. In the fall of 2017, a company that creates technology to help restore vision received authorization to start a feasibility clinical study of its retinal implant device in patients with dry-AMD.

Pixium Vision announced in October 2017 that it had received approval for the first in-human clinical trial of PRIMA, a miniaturized wireless sub-retinal implant for sufferers of dry-AMD. The implant, called a Bionic Vision Restoration System (VRS), is made up of three components: an implantable part (the retinal implant) that contains electrodes that are implanted behind the retina, a portable visual interface (goggles with a camera and a data transmission system), and a pocket processor. Here’s how it works, according to the Pixium website: A small camera mounted on the glasses captures images in the visual environment. Images are then processed by the pocket computer to extract relevant information from the visual scene. The processed images are sent back to the glasses where a miniaturized projector projects the images on the Prima implant at the back of the eye under the retina. The photovoltaic cells convert the optical information into electrical stimulation to excite the nerve cells of the retina and induce visual perception.

The clinical study was initially conceived by researchers at Stanford University and developed through to clinical stage by Pixium Vision, in collaboration with physicians and scientists. It was was expected to begin with the first patient implanted by the end of 2017.  If the implant proves to be effective, it could improve independence, mobility, and quality of life for those with dry-AMD and other vision impairments.