$3M funding takes Monash Bionic Vision closer

Monash Bionic Eye

One of the tiles from the Bionic Eye, which stimulates the visual cortex of the brain to produce patterns of light. Over time, the user learns to interpret these patterns as visual images.

The Monash Vision Group (MVG) moves a step closer to clinical trials of its Bionic Eye, thanks to landmark donations from two respected business leaders.

Dr Marc Besen and Chancellor Alan Finkel have each donated $1 million to the groundbreaking project through their respective foundations. With an additional commitment of $1 million from Monash University, the philanthropic donations will cover critical development costs. The support keeps MVG on track through the next phase of the project, culminating in the first human trials next year.

Over 50,000 people in Australia are considered clinically blind and the number exceeds 160 million globally. The bionic eye offers hope of restored vision to humankind and has the potential to change tens of thousands of lives.

Called the Gennaris, the bionic eye combines state of the art digital and biomedical technology with consumer-friendly glasses. A digital camera embedded in the glasses captures images from the user’s environment. A vision processor extracts the most useful features from these images and a wireless transmitter presents this information to a series of tiles that are implanted at the back of the brain. Each tile, through hair-thin electrodes, then stimulates the visual cortex of the brain to produce patterns of light. Over time, the user learns to interpret these patterns as visual images.

Dr Finkel said the bionic eye was a potential game-changer in treating vision impairment.

“I am familiar with many cutting-edge projects across our nation and none excites me more than this one. It has the potential to match and even exceed the success of the world’s first cochlear implant – pioneered here in Melbourne in the 1970s. Three decades later, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have benefited,” he said.

“I believe the Gennaris Bionic Eye offers Australia a further opportunity to demonstrate its reputation for science and innovation.” 

Leaders in engineering, physiology, vision sciences, neurosurgery, ophthalmology and industrial design are involved in the groundbreaking project. MVG partners are Monash University, Grey Innovation, Alfred Health and MiniFAB.

The Director of MVG, Professor Arthur Lowery, said the funding comes at a critical, yet pivotal stage.

“We are incredibly grateful to Dr Besen and Dr Finkel for their investment and support. This enables us to move ever closer to clinically testing a technology that has the potential to improve the lives of millions across the globe for generations to come,” Professor Lowery said.

This is the first time the project has received philanthropic support. Since its establishment almost five years ago, the Monash Vision Group has attracted total funding of $25 million. The overwhelming majority has come from government through the Australian Research Council Special Research Initiative in Bionic Vision Science and Technology and Monash University.

For more information on the bionic eye visit the Monash Vision Group.