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Second Sight: Maker of the First Bionic Eye


Each year, about 250 people are diagnosed with a rare, degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which robs them of their light perception. There is no known cure, but in 2013, a privately held company called Second Sight Medical Products in Sylmar, California, received FDA approval of the Argus II retinal prosthesis system, which is considered the world’s first bionic eye.

The medical device, which is about the size of a small pill, contains 80 electrodes. The device is implanted in the back of the eye in a procedure that takes about two hours. By stimulating the tissue in the retina, it allows patients to see in black, white, and shades of gray. This partial restoration of vision permits patients to regain a degree of independence and quality of life.

The team at Second Sight has been working to fund the necessary research, develop, test, and perfect the product, and get it approved, for 15 years. The project received $100 million in private funding, followed by another $100,000 from federal agencies. The device was first approved by regulators in Europe in 2011.

How significant of a breakthrough is this new medical device? The Cleveland Clinic named the product the top medical innovation for 2014. The editors of a trade publication, Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry News, named Second Sight Medical Products the Manufacturer of the Year for 2013. The publication’s readers affirmed that selection in their own survey.

By relying on neurostimulators, the product uses a technology that is being tested around the world for other conditions. As for this device, the firm’s private investors contemplate either an IPO or a sale to a larger company within the next year. For the patients who are regaining some level of sight, their gratitude helps make this another Great Manufacturing Story.