Globally, over one and a half million people have progressive vision loss. In Australia, over 50,000 people suffer from profound blindness. The financial cost of profound vision loss is significant. In Australia alone it has been estimated at upwards of $2.5 billion annually.

Bionic Vision Australia (BVA) is a national consortium of researchers—from The University of Melbourne (administering organisation), The University of New South Wales, Western Sydney University, Bionics Institute, Centre for Eye Research Australia, National ICT Australia (now Data61), Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and National Vision Research Institute—working to develop bionic eye devices that will restore the sense of vision to people with vision impairment.

Initially funded through the ARC’s Research in Bionic Vision Science and Technology Initiative, BVA received total funding of $50 million (2010–2015). During that time, BVA’s research program included successful testing in patients of a prototype implant system right through to the development of an implant system ready to undergo clinical regulatory testing and commercialisation.

In early 2017, BVA announced that its commercialisation company, Bionic Vision Technologies, had secured foreign investment of $18 million (USD) from Hong Kong based company, China Huarong International Holdings Limited, together with State Path Capital Limited BVI, to manufacture devices and commence a human clinical trial of the bionic eye implant.

The device, implanted in the rear of the eye (the retina), will initially provide light perception and enable some vision to blind patients with degenerative retinal conditions. BVA will utilise Australia’s existing world-class manufacturing expertise to produce this life-changing device.

The commercialisation of BVA’s bionic eye implant is an impressive example of the translation of publicly funded research to deliver significant social and economic benefits to Australia.

Image: The bionic eye.
Image courtesy: Bionic Vision Australia.