Thinker's Chronicle

Second Sight Medical

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Second Sight Medical was a biotechnology company focused on building prosthetics. They specialize in creating artificial prosthetics to treat degenerative vision diseases, and their Argus II retinal prosthesis has been implemented in over 350 real human subjects. However, as the company started losing profit and became vulnerable to bankruptcy, they began to eliminate these implants. Near the end of this year, Second Sight merged with biopharmaceutical company Nano Precision Medical and was renamed Vivani Medical.

What is the Argus II implant?

The Argus II retinal prosthesis is an implant that allows people with retinitis pigmentosa (a degenerative condition that targets the retina and causes severe visual impairment) to see some shapes and patterns. According to a 2018 study, this implant “stimulate[s] the visual cortex to sense shimmering, light or dark patterns” and the patient will be trained on recognizing these patterns as objects. Although a primitive version of what our eyes can actually accomplish, it is an enormous step for those with near to total blindness.

How the device actually works is that there is a small camera attached to a pair of glasses that the patient must wear. A visual processing unit, which the patient must also wear, translates these images into electric impulses. These electric impulses are sent to the electrode array on the implant which then stimulates remaining retinal cells in the patient’s eyes that creates the light patterns. 

What is happening to Second Sight?

Due to its financial issues, the company began to lay off a large number of their employees while stopping any more upgrades to their Argus technology. According to the press, the patients with these implants were not even told about these updates. The company began to move away from the Argus implant and towards the Orion implant which is one placed on the brain.

According to a former engineer at the company, “We didn’t really support the basic Argus after that… We didn’t sell any more, we didn’t make any more, we didn’t have anything to do with it anymore.” 

Although this is unfortunate news for patients hoping to use this promising technology, it is worse news for people who already have the implant. With the company ceasing repairs and updates on the technology, those who already have it have incredibly few options if their implant or supporting devices ever stop working. Currently, patients having issues with their devices have to choose between a risky and painful procedure to get the implant out or risk the chance of leaving it in without knowing what its long term consequences might be.

After its merger with Nano Precision Medical, Second Sight is even farther away from any such progress on their visual implants. While the technology is promising, it seems as though the company behind it may not be holding the same allure. 

Advika Rajeev
Advika Rajeev