A sight-restoring implant approved for sale in the European Union on Wednesday is the second artificial retina to become available in the region.
Germany’s Retina Implant developed the device, called Alpha IMS, which features a light-sensitive three-millimeter square microchip that detects images with photodiodes and communicates the information electrically to nerve cells in the retina (see “Microchip Restores Vision”). The device has been approved to treat patients blinded by a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which causes the rods and cones of the retina to die over time.
Another artificial retina system, made by a California company, has been available in Europe since 2011 (see “Artificial Vision”). This system, the Argus II, from Second Sight uses a camera mounted on spectacles to detect light and communicates that information to an implant in the retina. The Alpha IMS, conversely, requires no externally visible gear. Each system also requires a different kind of surgery for implantation in the retina—the surgery for the Argus II takes about 3 hours, whereas the surgery for the Alpha IMS takes up to 10.