First retinal implant in Hawaii and Asia Pacific region to be performed in Honolulu

Pacific Business News

March 19, 2015 | By Lorin Eleni Gill

The Eye Center of Hawaii will host an unprecedented eye surgery in the Asia Pacific region next week — a retinal bionic implant which restores some vision to patients with retinal blindness.

Dr. Gregg Kokame of the Retina Consultants of Hawaii will perform the first implant of the Argus II artificial retina in Honolulu on Tuesday.

The bionic eye implantation procedure is the first retinal prosthesis approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The procedure is for blind or nearly blind patients with hereditary degenerative eye disease, called retinitis pigmentosa, and will not aid people with traumatic blindness, diabetic blindness, or retinal detachment.

Patients with retinitis pigmentosa lose photoreceptors and their sense of light, but their inner retina that sends images to the brain may still work, according to Kokame.

“I watched people [with hereditary degenerative eye disease] go blind for 25 to 30 years and there was no way we could help,” he said. “But now, for the first time since I entered ophthalmology, we can help completely blind patients recover some vision.”

The procedure involves implanting a micro electrode Argus II chip onto the retina, and on the outside of the eye, a receiver will receive impulses from a camera that a patient wears on sunglasses. The camera sends impulses to the microelectrode array and is transmitted down the optic nerve to the brain.

Kokame, who is an Iolani School alumnus and a clinical professor at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, said patients who go through the procedure will not have “reading” vision, but will be able to see things in front of them and walk down a hallway and avoid obstacles. He first learned about it from inventor Mark Humayun.

“To see what it does to the patient is incredibly moving, from having eyes in total darkness to having them be able to funtion in light,” Kokame added.

The FDA approved the procedure in 2013, but some countries in Europe adopted the procedure about three years ago.

The Eye Surgery Center of Hawaii is part of Hawaii-based venture capital accelerator Skai Ventures.

“The social and humanitarian impact for something like this is will be very significant,” Hank Wuh, CEO of SkaiI Ventures told PBN, noting that the surgery may provide a new opportunity for patients who live out-of-country in the Asia Pacific region.