After being blind for more than 20 years, Chris James is regaining the gift of sight thanks to a computer chip implanted at the back of his eye.
The 54-year-old is the first British patient to be fitted with the new chip, which is similar to those found in cell phone cameras, Sky News reported. The treatment was developed for people who, like James, suffer from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that destroys the retina over time.
The chip, developed by German company Retina Implant AG, was inserted behind James' retina at Oxford University Eye Hospital as part of a clinical trial that will be carried out on up to 12 patients.
The implant allows James to see blurry outlines of shapes, and perceive light and darkness, by helping the body convert light that comes in through the eye into the electrical pulses that the brain interprets as images.
So far, James has been able make out the outlines of objects when he looks at them up close. His brain will need time to learn how to make sense of the new information, and doctors expect he may recognize faces in time.
A second patient, Robin Millar, has since received a chip. The 60-year-old music teacher told the BBC he is able to detect light coming in through the windows of a room, and has started dreaming in color for the first time in 25 years.
"It's the first time that British patients who were completely blind have been able to see something," Professor Robert MacLaren, one of the doctors leading the trial, told the BBC.
A Finnish man was the first to test out one of the experimental chips in 2010, though that version of the device only worked inside a lab. The implant being used in the British clinical trial is portable.
"This isn't a cure, but it might put the world into some perspective and some imagery for me, rather than just a black world," James told Sky News.