a sientist in a laboratory Photo: iStock
Coming soon: bionic eye to restore sight
Australian scientists dazzled the world with the cochlear implant – the “bionic ear” – and now the same team is working on a “bionic eye”. Already, Dr Anthony Burkitt, research director of Bionic Vision Australia and professor of engineering at the University of Melbourne, is confident enough to say that “this new device will be far superior to other retinal implants being developed”. The eye uses a tiny video camera fixed to a patient’s glasses to capture images. These are then translated into electrical impulses that stimulate electrodes inserted into the same area of the retina that is ordinarily activated by light. Over time ,the patient learns to interpret these nerve signals as useful vision.
“The principle is similar to the bionic ear, but there are more technical challenges,” says Professor Rob Shepherd, director of the Bionic Ear Institute, who is also collaborating with Bionic Vision Australia on the project. The bionic ear delivers a useful amount of auditory information with 22 electrodes. However, a useful replacement eye needs at least 100, perhaps even 1000 electrodes. As the technology improves and more electrodes are added, the quality of vision will allow the blind to recognise familiar faces and to read large text.
≫ A 100-electrode prototype will begin patient trials in 2013 and a 1000-electrode model is expected by 2015.
A shot against cancer After 30 years of disappointing starts, “vaccines” against lymphoma, prostate cancer, melanoma and neuroblastoma are finally making headway.
Last year, a trial of patients with late-stage melanoma found 22% responded favourably to a vaccine combined with the immunotherapy drug interleukin-2 (IL-2), compared to 9.7% of patients receiving conventional treatments.
Says Dr Patrick Hwu, melanoma chief at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre, “If we can use the body’s own defence system to attack tumour cells, we can rid the body of cancer without destroying healthy tissue.”
The current vaccine can be given only to 50% of people with melanoma as it has to match a patient’s tissue type. “Studies are trying to identify which patients will respond,” says Hwu. ≫ 2-5 years
Vaccines: the next generation
Needle-free edible vaccine In 2005 Perth scientist Barry Marshall won the Nobel Prize for discovering that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori causes some stomach ulcers. Marshall has been working on ways to put this naturally occurring stomach bug to better use – as a vaccine carrier. His plan? Take some of the DNA from a harmful agent – such as the flu virus – clone it inside the H.pylori and it will begin to exhibit parts of the flu virus on its surface. “As the H.pylori grows in your stomach, you also become vaccinated against the flu,” he says. ≫ 10 years
Post A Comment
Comments are published and responded to (if required) on a weekly basis. For queries or comments about our Sweepstakes and product purchases from our online store, please call Customer Service on 0800 400 060 or email email@example.com. Comments containing personal or inappropriate material may be modified or removed at our discretion.