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Home » News and Events » Global Health Vision Lecture Series » Development of a Retinal Prosthesis for Patients with End-stage Retinitis Pigmentosa

Global Health Vision Lecture Series
Sponsored by
National Eye Institute, Fogarty International Center, and NIH Global Health Interest Group

Development of a Retinal Prosthesis for Patients with End-stage Retinitis Pigmentosa

Robert Shepherd, Ph.D.
Robert Shepherd, Ph.D.

Date: Thursday, June 26, 2014
Time: 3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Location: Building 45, Balcony A

Robert Shepherd, Ph.D.
Director, The Bionics Institute of Australia
Head, Medical Bionics Department, University of Melbourne Blindness and Deafness

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is an inherited eye disease that leads to severe blindness following degenerative changes to the photoreceptors of the retina. Although there is no drug-based therapy that can stop this degenerative process, large numbers of retinal ganglion cells are spared during RP's progression, providing potential for a therapeutic solution via a neural prosthesis. Clinical trials of retinal prostheses have demonstrated improved acuity for subjects with severe vision impairment that varies from bare light perception to a level where they can recognize shapes, navigate a room, and read large letters.

Dr. Robert Shepherd, director of The Bionics Institute of Australia and an international expert in the field of safety and efficacy of neural prostheses, will provide an overview of the design, preclinical evaluation, and clinical trial of a suprachoroidal retinal implant as an aid for patients with end-stage RP. The suprachoroidal implant's electrodes are positioned within a tissue pocket between the outer "white" layer of the eye (the sclera) and the adjacent vascular choroid layer. According to Dr. Shepherd, this site provides a number of advantages to implants whose electrodes are either on the surface of or behind the retina, including less traumatic surgery, a larger electrode array covering a wider region of the retina, and long-term mechanical stability. The technical challenges is that the electrodes are farther away from their neural targets in comparison to the other retinal implants.

Dr. Shepherd was part of Graeme Clark's original cochlear implant team and has 35 years of experience working in the field of medical bionics. He led the preclinical teams that demonstrated the safety and efficacy of Cochlear's bionic ear in both adults and children. He currently leads the preclinical program in an Australia-wide collaboration—Bionic Vision Australia—to develop a bionic eye. His research group developed a bionic eye prototype that has been successfully implanted in three blind volunteers for over 18 months without any significant clinical complications. Dr. Shepherd has overseen the expansion of the Bionic Ear Institute into the Bionics Institute and has widened the research portfolio to include cochlear implants, retinal prostheses, and the development of a neurobionic platform technology designed to alleviate a range of intractable and debilitating central nervous system disorders, such as epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and pain management, via central nervous system—based neural prostheses.

For more information about the lecture, contact: Dr. Gyan "John" Prakash, Associate Director, prakashg@mail.nih.gov.

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The NEI Global Health Vision Lecture Series is sponsored by the National Eye Institute (NEI) and the NIH Global Health Interest Group. The Fogarty International Center is also a sponsor of this and other previous and planned lectures. The series was created by the NEI Office of International Programs in 2012 to foster the global collaboration and exchange of information among international vision researchers and eye health clinical scientists. Lessons learned from global health programs around the world and their applications to healthcare research in the United States are a focus of discussion in these lectures.

Last Updated: June 2014





Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health USA.gov