A surgeon in Pisa, Italy has successfully completed the first commercial implantation of a retinal prosthesis that promises to partially restore sight to blind patients.

The price tag for the Argus II system, developed by U.S.-based Second Sight Medical Products – is about $100,000. The company received European approval for its system earlier this year.

A retinal implant is a biomedical implant that is meant to partially restore useful vision to those who have lost their vision due to degenerative eye conditions. The system combine specialized glasses which transmit signals to the implant on the retina.

Dr. Stanislao Rizzo, Director of the University Hospital Ophthalmic Department of Pisa, surgically implanted the company’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System in a patient suffering from advanced Retinitis Pigmentosa.

The eye disease damages the layer of tissue along the back of the inner eye, called the retina, which converts light images to nerve signals and sends them to the brain.

Rizzo said he was pleased to offer the treatment for the first time.

“I hope that it will encourage patients suffering from this impactful condition to seek medical advice in centers of excellence around Europe, like the one we have here in Pisa,” Dr. Rizzo said in a release. “It is wonderful that medicine can now do something for the blind.”

Second Sight says the system works by converting video images captured by a miniature camera, housed in the patient’s glasses, into a series of small electrical pulses that are transmitted wirelessly to an array of electrodes on the surface of the retina. The pulses are intended to stimulate the retina’s remaining cells resulting in the corresponding perception of patterns of light in the brain. Patients can learn to interpret these visual patterns thereby gaining some functional vision.

The system was tested in a multi-center international clinical trial that began in 2007.

The Argus II system is currently available in Germany, France, the UK, and Switzerland. Second Sight is looking to add more centers.

“This is truly a historic event that has been decades in the making. This milestone is significant for the company and the field of vision restoration, but most importantly, for these patients who now have a treatment option,” said Gregoire Cosendai, PhD, head of Second Sight’s European subsidiary.