The Argus II Retinal Implant from California-based company Second Sight has become the first retinal prosthesis for treatment of the blind approved for sale in Europe. The approval follows a successful clinical trial that ran for almost four years and saw more than 30 patients around the world using the device at home as they went about their daily lives. While the system isn't able to restore normal vision, the majority of trial subjects gained the ability to perceive colors, recognize large letters and locate objects, while two were even able to read short sentences.

Intended for the treatment of degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), the Argus II system works by converting images captured by a miniature video camera housed in the patient's glasses into a series of small electrical impulses that are then transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes implanted onto the patient's retina. These impulses stimulate the retina's remaining cells and result in the perception of patterns of light in the brain. By learning to interpret these visual patterns, the patients were able to gain some functional vision.

"This 'artificial retina' brings hope to thousands of people with advanced retinal diseases" says David Head, Chief Executive of the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society. "The restoration of an element of vision may bring with it the restoration of independence and mobility that would greatly improve a patient's quality of life."

With the approval granted to sell the Argus II system in the European Economic Area, Second Sight says it plans to make the system available later this year in clinics in France, Switzerland and the UK, with wider availability in the coming months and years. Argus II is not yet approved for sale in the U.S.