x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The future through bionic eyes

Though they may not fully restore vision, advances in technology can improve the lives of those less fortunate.

He that is stricken blind, William Shakespeare once wrote, "cannot forget the precious treasure of his eyesight lost". Such was a concern for Shakespeare's Romeo. Thanks to researchers in Germany, modern day romantics have less to worry about.

Once the realm of science fiction, bionic eyes developed at the University of Tuebingen have shown promise in restoring the sight of patients with rare forms of hereditary blindness. By implanting powerful light-sensitive microchips that convert images into electrical impulses, blind patients have been able to "localise and approach persons in a room freely, and to read large letters as complete words", the scientists report.

More testing is needed, and not everyone fitted with the revolutionary chip will see afterward. Critics caution that while these and other treatments may help the blind distinguish objects and move with less difficulty, they are not replacements for fully restored vision.

Yet as medical research like this demonstrates, advances in technology can improve the lives of those less fortunate. Miikka Terho, a 46-year-old patient from Finland who showed the most promise in the University of Tuebingen testing, told the BBC that the best part of the procedure was the ability to "focus on something" afterward. As Shakespeare knew centuries ago, the ability to focus - on a lover, or a landscape - is a beautiful thing indeed.