What Will 2017 Offer the Blind?
Every year brings exciting new developments for fighting blindness and corneal disease, and we expect 2017 to be especially interesting. New technologies – from bionic eyes to robotic doctors to the growing use of stem cells – have the potential to radically change how we treat blindness, and 2017 is expected to have bold new developments in all three areas. As our founder, tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Tej Kohli has always maintained, it will take innovative new technologies to fully tackle the problem of blindness – and 2017 looks set to further that vision.
The Next Chapter for the Bionic Eye
2017 is the year the bionic eye will take an important next step – the NHS plans to fund 10 patients to be fitted with a bionic eye at some point in the year. While a few have already undergone trials to test the Argus II, which uses a pair of glasses equipped with a camera to send signals straight to the ocular nerves, this new trial is a big leap forward for the rollout of bionic eyes. Though the Argus II doesn’t capture sight as we know it, it does display a visual pattern that represents the world, which patients are able to learn to interpret. The bionic eye is an important part of the arsenal of new approaches to blindness – and with this trial, the technology will continue to progress.
The Rise of Robot Doctors
We’ve been keeping an eye on the use of robotics in medicine for a while, and the start of 2017 saw an interesting development in the field. A surgeon at University Hospital Leuven was able to operate on a patient with retinal vein occlusion through the medium of a robot in January of 2017, succeeding in inserting a 0.03 millimetre needle into the retinal vein of the patient. The surgeon was able to inject a thrombolytic drug into the vein, dissolving a blood clot which had formed. Such blood clots reduce or even stop entirely the sight in the eye – but previously, we didn’t yet have the precision to inject the curative drug into the vein. A surgeon must hold the tiny needle perfectly still for ten minutes – impossible to do by hand, but with robotic assistance, it has been made possible. With further studies planned, 2017 may be the breakthrough year for robots and blindness!
Stem Cells and the Cure for Blindness
The use of stem cells in medicine has been a promising area of inquiry for years, offering the possibility of growing and restoring organs without the risk of rejection – and it’s seen corresponding interest from scientists, researchers and high net worth philanthropists like the American businessman Denny Sanford or our own Tej Kohli. 2016 saw enormous breakthroughs in stem cell research and blindness, and 2017 has continued the trend, leading some to proclaim that we are on track for a cure for blindness. Stem cell research has led to the development of “custom-made” corneas – corneas which are regrown, not donated, which has the potential both to address the shortage of donors and reduces the chance of rejection of the cornea. The cornea is regrown using the patient’s own eye by the insertion of a synthetic hydrogel into the inner surface of the cornea. So far, only animal treatments have been attempted – but in 2017, human trials will begin. Stem cells may be the silver bullet for corneal disease – and 2017 is sure to be an exciting year for the new treatment.
We’re very much looking forward to what 2017 has in store for the fight against blindness – and it looks like many of those trends that we’ve identified will start to come together in 2017. New trials and the start of patient treatments for a range of innovative medical advances means that 2017 promises to be an exciting year for blindness on multiple fronts – so make sure to look out for all the new developments 2017 will hold.