Belfast Telegraph

Bionic eye therapy 'total success' for visually impaired Manchester United fan

A partially sighted pensioner has had his central vision restored for the first time in nearly a decade after he received a "bionic eye".

Ray Flynn, 80, from Audenshaw, Manchester, is the world's first patient with advanced dry age related macular degeneration (AMD) to undergo the procedure.

The retired engineer, who has peripheral vision, is also believed to be the first human being to have the use of combined natural and artificial sight.

Mr Flynn has experienced deteriorating central vision for the last eight years which has affected his quality of life but is now looking forward to a clearer view of his beloved Manchester United on television.

The keen gourmet cook also cannot wait to read recipes without the use of a magnifying glass.

AMD is the most common cause of sight loss in the developed world with between 20 and 25 million sufferers worldwide.

Mr Flynn is affected by dry AMD which does not affect his outer vision but is currently untreatable.

The Argus II retinal implant that he received last month at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital in a four-hour procedure has already been successfully used worldwide on more than 130 patients with the rare eye disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP). However those patients, unlike Mr Flynn, had no peripheral vision.

Developed by Second Sight Medical Products, it works by converting video images captured by a miniature camera housed in the patient's glasses into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to electrodes on the surface of the retina.

These pulses stimulate the retina's remaining cells resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain

The patient then learns to interpret these visual patterns to regain some visual function.

Mr Flynn's system was turned on for the first time on July 1 and tests showed that he could make out the outline of people and objects even with his eyes closed.

Mr Flynn says he is taking things slowly as he gets used to the system but is already benefiting in his everyday life.

He said: "Before when I was looking at a plant in the garden it was like a honeycomb in the centre of my eye. That has now disappeared. I can now walk round the garden and see things.

"It's definitely improved my vision but I haven't been out and about on a bus yet. I don't think I will for a little while."

But he is counting down the days to the start of the new Premier League season.

Unmarried Mr Flynn was a regular at Old Trafford in his younger days and also regularly watched Manchester United play in Europe.

His brother, Pete, 77, said: "We don't miss a game on the television but he can't make out the players on the pitch and he can only watch if he sits in a certain position and looks from the corner of his eye.

"It gets very tiring for him so watching the first game of the season should be a new experience.

"He is also into his cooking and is a fan of Delia Smith. He does a lot of it by instinct but using a magnifying glass to follow a recipe takes him a long time and he tries very hard with that."

Professor Paulo Stanga, consultant ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, said: "Mr Flynn's progress is truly remarkable. He is seeing the outline of people and objects very effectively.

"Ray had to do everything with his peripheral vision, it's very tiring, it is exhausting, What we are hoping to achieve is to improve Ray's central vision so he does not have to work so hard with his peripheral vision.

"This is new information that Ray's brain is receiving and his brain now needs to get use to interpreting it.

"He has not given up on losing his central vision. He is a motivated patient and that is crucial."

He added: "As far as I am concerned, the first results of the trial are a total success and I look forward to treating more dry AMD patients with the Argus II as part of this trial. We are currently recruiting four more patients to the trial in Manchester."

"On behalf of the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, we feel privileged to be conducting the world's first study into retinal implants for patients with AMD. This technology is revolutionary and changes patients' lives - restoring some functional vision and helping them to live more independently."

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said: "This ground-breaking research highlights the crucial role of the NHS as a test bed for 21st century medicine.

"In investing over £1 billion a year into the National Institute for Health Research, we provide trials like this one with the state-of-the-art facilities and researchers needed to translate scientific advances into real benefits for patients."