Researchers in Australia intend to build and test a fully functional bionic eye on human patients by 2013.

Biomedical researchers from the University of New South Wales are hoping to test fully functional bionic eye implants on humans in 2013. The prototypes consist of 98 electrodes that stimulate the nerve cells in the patient’s retina. The retina functions by converting light into electrical impulses which are then sent to the visual cortex in the brain, allowing the person to see. The bionic implant would stimulate the retina through direct electrical impulses, allowing the users to differentiate between light and dark.

Gregg Suaning, a professor from the University of New South Wales Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, is one of the leaders of the research. He is also the lead researcher responsible for Bionic Vision Australia’s wide-view device, the first prototype designed to restore sight to those with degenerative retinal conditions. Suaning released a statement in which he said, “Our primary aim is to complete the first prototypes of the bionic eye so they can be tested in human recipients in 2013.”

The new device works by taking an image with a camera, such as one mounted on a pair of glasses, which is processed by an external processor in a computer or smartphone. The processed information is then sent to the bionic eye’s chip, which stimulates the retina through direct electrical impulses of the nerves.

The University of New South Wales has spent $2.5 million to upgrade its labs so that researchers could develop the technology behind this device. The upgrades include high temperature presses, laser cutters, plasma reactors, probing machines, and a “clean room” to develop the electronic components. “The new laboratory gives us the capacity to not only design and test, but to also fabricate novel and intricate bionic implants,” Suaning said. “It will yield enormous potential and promise for future biomedical research and clinical outcomes.”

The labs were opened on April 27th.