The Bionic Eye

Kellogg performs first four retinal prosthesis implants in U.S. since FDA approval

In January and February 2014, Kellogg retina surgeons performed the first – and the second, third and fourth– procedure in the U.S. to implant an artificial retina, or “bionic eye,” since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device in 2013. All four patients, who range in age from 55 to 79, suffer from the degenerative and blinding eye disease retinitis pigmentosa.

The device is the Argus® II Retinal Prosthesis System, developed by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., of Sylmar, CA. The U-M Kellogg Eye Center is one of 12 major centers in the U.S. to offer the retinal prosthesis.

The system is surgically implanted in one eye. The patient wears glasses equipped with a camera that captures images and converts them into a series of small electrical pulses. The pulses are transmitted wirelessly to the prosthesis and its array of electrodes on the surface of the retina. These pulses are intended to stimulate the retina’s remaining cells, resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain.

The technology allows individuals to see shapes and forms to help them navigate in their homes and identify the outlines of friends and family members. They will not see details of a face, but they can perceive flashes of light that help them track a person’s movements or see the outline of doorways and sidewalks. For patients who have been blind for many years, the device is close to a miracle.

The retinal prosthesis is not activated until the patient has sufficiently recovered from surgery. The patient then undergoes training to learn to interpret the visual patterns in order to regain some visual function, a process that can take from one to three months.

In an earlier clinical study of the Argus® II, most participants were able to perform basic activities better with the prosthesis than without it. Many were able to locate lights and windows, follow lines in a crosswalk, or avoid running into things as they walked. Some could sort laundry or determine where other people were located in a room, and about half were able to read very large letters (about nine inches high).

In June, 2014, CNN correspondent and U-M Medical School alumni Sanjay Gupta, M.D., profiled the second patient to receive the implant. Thanks to the implant and the intensive retraining that followed, the patient has begun relearning how to interpret the images he sees, such as when people step in front of him or when his young grandson runs through the room.

Kellogg surgeons have performed four of the ten Argus® II implant procedures to date in the U.S., and two more are scheduled here in the near future.

To learn more about patient eligibility requirements for the Argus II, visit, contact the Kellogg Retinal Dystrophy Clinic at 734-763-2280 or email