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Giving sight back to the blind, an increasingly realistic scenario

Created by the Institut de la Vision, the bioelectronics start-up Pixium Vision - the originator of the new generation of retinal prostheses - is joining forces with Second Sight, an innovative Californian company, to form the world leader in vision restoration, of which it will be the majority shareholder.

Will our decade be the one in which man - with science - will be able to restore sight to the blind? The Institut de la Vision is working towards this goal on a daily basis, in particular through its support for the development of visual prostheses, also known as artificial retinas. These prostheses aim to give back "useful" vision to patients who have become blind, i.e. a visual perception that allows them to recognise faces, read, move around and enjoy greater autonomy in their social life.

The bioelectronics start-up Pixium Vision was created in 2011 on the basis of technologies developed at the Vision Institute. It has since developed the PRIMA retinal prostheses using a process patented by Stanford University. This new technology, produced in France to standards compatible with clinical use, has been pre-clinically validated in animals by the Institut de la Vision's teams.

At the cutting edge of innovation in the field, this prosthesis is a small electronic chip placed under the retina which it stimulates by transforming infrared light into an electric current. The patient wears glasses with a camera, a microprocessor and a small infrared image projector. This technology helps to overcome the loss of photoreceptor cells that causes conditions such as hereditary retinal dystrophies or age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD patients have the best visual acuity reported for a retinal prosthesis [1]

At the beginning of this year, hope is in the spotlight as Pixium Vision has just joined forces with Second Sight Medical Products, another leading company based in California, which has pioneered the manufacture and marketing of implantable visual prostheses in Europe and the USA. The synergy of these two complementary expertises should give a boost to clinical development in the field of blindness, which represents a major unmet medical need throughout the world [2].

In the future, the activity of this new world leader in vision restoration, in which Pixium Vision is a majority shareholder, will focus on retinal stimulation with the PRIMA system. The technologies developed jointly could treat numerous pathologies: degenerative diseases of the retina, glaucoma, diseases or trauma of the optic nerve.

The Institut de la Vision has contributed to these advances in visual restoration by creating the start-up Pixium Vision and supporting it in preclinical studies. The Institute's researchers are therefore delighted with this major step forward for patients in the prosthetic approach to retinal diseases. By accelerating the availability of these innovative treatments for patients, we will enable them to regain useful sight: greater autonomy and a better quality of life in everyday life.

For more information on the state of science regarding retinal or cortical prostheses and new alternative strategies:

See the film on the working principle of the PRIMA system:

[1] During the clinical feasibility study in France, 4 out of 5 patients (with dry AMD) have already regained visual acuity of 20/460 to 20/560, allowing them to recognise objects and even read words! Trials are continuing in Europe and the USA for the application for Marketing Authorisation (MA).
[2] In 2010, there were approximately 285 million visually impaired people in the world, of whom about 39 million were completely blind.