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Israeli and international scientists are working to develop a revolutionary technology that could restore sight to millions. Within a few years, one or more versions of a "bionic eye" for people with degenerative conditions affecting the retina are expected to be available commercially.

Damage to the retina, the membrane that lines the inside of the eyeball and is connected via the optic nerve to the brain, is among the leading causes of vision loss in the developed world.

The innovative technology relies on the brain's acquired ability to process visual data. As such, it will only provide a limited field of vision.

Nano Retina, based in Herzliya Pituah and founded by entrepreneur Yossi Gross, is developing an implant that will replace damaged photo-receptors in the eyes and provide gray-scale vision to a resolution of 1300 pixels for the first generation of chips and 5000 pixels for the second generation. The company hopes to begin marketing its implant within five years.

The German biomedical firm Retina Implant AG, meanwhile, recently reported the successful conclusion of a clinical trial involving 11 subjects who lost their sight due to retinitis pigmentosa. A tiny chip implanted underneath the retina enables light entering through the pupil to be converted into neural signals that are received by the brain. The chip is powered by a tiny external battery that is affixed behind the ear.

Nano Retina engineers say their chip will enable users to identify facial features and to watch television.

While both chips use a similar biological infrastructure, Nano Retina's battery will be charged wirelessly, by a mini-laser attached to a pair of eyeglasses.

Meanwhile, Bionic Vision Australia announced recently that its bionic eye, which includes a miniature camera attached to glasses, will be on the market within three years.