Retinal implants are attention-getters. Everyone understands the dramatic benefit of helping blind people see, similar to helping wheelchair-bound people rise up and walk on their own. We’ve written about retinal implants several times in the past few years. We covered Nano Retina’s 3DNI digital chip implant and special eyeglasses. We also wrote about Pixium Vision’s PRIMA wireless sub-retina implant for people who suffer from dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Second Sight Medical Products recently announced FDA approval to use its Argus 2S Retinal Prosthesis System with the company’s Argus II retinal implant. The Argus II implant treats retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a condition that results in the loss of retinal cells. The Argus II performance is documented in a 2016 study published in the journal Ophthalmology. The Argus 2S Retinal Prosthesis System is a second generation external hardware set that includes glasses and a video processing unit. According to Second Sight, the Argus 2S enhances the comfort and aesthetics of the wearable and improves video processing performance. Second Sight has discontinued Argus II implants, howeveer. Second Sight is clearly more excited by the potential to use the Argus 2s with another implant, the Orion Visual Cortical Prosthesis System.

Argus II consists of array of electrodes implanted on the surface of he retina. The Orion Visual Cortical Prosthesis System bypasses the eye and places electrodes directly on the surface of the visual cortex. The Orion system’s electrodes provide the perception of patterns of light. According to Second Sight, unlike the Argus II, which treats only retinal pigmentosa, the Orion system treats a wide range of visual problems including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, optic nerve injury or disease, and eye injury. Orion works with the miniature camera mounted on the Argus 2S Retinal Prosthesis System. Orion converts the images captured by the camera to a series of small electrical pulses that transmit to the array of electrodes on the visual cortex.

There are no peer-reviewed studies of the Orion system. Early feasibility studies are ongoing in Los Angeles and Houston. Second Sight has not yet made its final decision to begin production of the now-FDA-approved Argus 2S system. That decision depends on a pending business combination of Second Sight and Pixium Vision. It may sound premature to write about a product combination that lacks peer-reviewed studies and isn’t even on a definite production path However, the companies involved have solid histories of proved technology in the field and the potential progress in restoring sight to the blind is significant.