Bionic eye maker Argus goes bust – without support, patients could lose their sight

(ORDO NEWS) — Second Sight has been installing bionic eyes for the blind for 10 years. Now more than 350 people around the world are left without the support of retinal prostheses and are forced to service the implants themselves.

During its existence, Second Sight was never able to become profitable. After the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, she stopped all activities altogether.

How it works

Today there are two versions of bionic eyes: Argus I, with very modest capabilities – a resolution of only 16 pixels, and Argus II, a modernized and slightly improved version of the previous generation with 60 pixels. The plans were further improvements to 250 pixels. There were even rumors about upcoming support for color vision and face recognition.

Note! Pixels here do not mean computer pixels on screens that are familiar to us, but rather blurry light spots that do not have a fixed reference to areas of the field of view.

The company’s devices returned the ability to see light sources, the contours of people and objects. This is not about restoring vision, as with completely healthy eyes.

A person sees only a stream of flashes of light, which are produced by special electrodes and are very remotely similar to the real environment. Rather, it is not even vision as such, but the visual perception of an abstract sign system, the understanding of which needs to be studied separately.

The results vary greatly from patient to patient. Some over time have learned to see the lanes of the pedestrian crossing on the road, and to determine by the change in the brightness of the light spot when a person turns to face them. There are also cases where a person learned to ski and shoot a bow after a few years.

Second Sight Patient with Argus Technology Shoots Archery: Video

Others could hardly distinguish even the largest geometric shapes. Bionic eyes work best in people who had vision at first, but then lost it due to illness.

In patients with congenital blindness, the optic nerve is often atrophied – in such cases, prostheses may be useless. Although sometimes under the influence of bionic eyes, the optic nerve is partially restored due to neuroplasticity.

What happened to Second Sight

  • Over time, the company began to have problems.
  • Argus II turned out to be so complicated and expensive to manufacture that it did not pay for itself even at a price of 140 – 150 thousand dollars.
  • There was no point in raising the price any further, because the entire procedure from surgery to rehabilitation and training was even more expensive for clients.
  • One of the residents of the United States gave 497 thousand dollars for the entire procedure. Even taking into account the fact that 80% of the amount was covered by insurance, this is a lot of money for the average patient.
  • In addition, some clients have had unpleasant medical side effects.
  • Under such conditions, the company was never able to make a profit.

In 2018, Second Sight sent out a letter to customers announcing that they were phasing out retinal prosthetic technology in favor of the next-generation Orion implant, but promised to continue to support the Argus II. In fact, the company has curtailed all work in this industry.

In the spring of 2020, Second Sight announced its intention to wind down operations, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, fired most of the remaining employees, and then auctioned almost all of the property. And at the beginning of February, 2022 it became known that the company is bought by pharmaceutical corporation NPM.

Second Sight no longer informed customers about what was happening, so the very first news about the collapse of the company unexpectedly caught both patients and doctors.

This option was not even discussed when installing implants, so people did not know what to do next. Patients who were waiting for a future software upgrade (without intervention in the hardware itself or the body) were left alone with electronic implants that were implanted in their heads.

What to do with Argus

Patients have a variety of problems. For example, American Barbara Campbell used a bionic eye for four years until she lost her sight in the middle of the street in 2013.

The prosthesis made a series of strange sounds, after which it turned off. Even Second Sight specialists could not return it to work. The woman has been living with a non-working implant in her eye for nine years, because she fears complications when it is removed.

Another user, Jeroen Perk, encountered an issue in November 2020. By that time, Second Sight had already virtually ceased to exist. His data processing unit fell to the ground and crashed.

The man at first thought about what to do next, leaning towards removing the non-functioning implant, but then he decided to turn to the European Argus II user community and quickly found out that one of the doctors had a spare unit. By February 2021, Perk was again able to use the bionic eye.

Similar situations are likely to be repeated in the future. And all that remains for former clients of Second Sight is to rely on outside help.

Doctors are trying to maintain Argus systems themselves and have even organized a support network based on eye clinics. Also, the owners of bionic eyes are pinning their hopes on the French company Pixium Vision, which is working on similar implants, and which can pick up former Second Sight customers.

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