Techopia Live: How iBIONICS’ diamond implant could restore vision to the blind

Techopia Live kicked off its 2018 season with iBIONICS’ CEO and co-founder Suzanne Grant, who shared her passion for restoring sight to those with vision loss.

At the core of the Ottawa startup’s product is a diamond, which Grant says can help to replicate the way the human eye’s retina processes photonic information.

Here’s how it works: a small video camera on a pair of smart glasses takes in information from the world around us – the same way our natural eyes take in light.

In both cases, that information needs to be coded into an electric signal that the brain can understand. Unhealthy retinas fail to transmit these signals, leading to loss of vision.

With iBIONICS, a diamond acts as the conduit for tiny electric pulses that can communicate visual information to the brain in a language it understands.

“We’re getting closer and closer to that natural environment the brain likes to operate in,” Grant tells Techopia Live.

Grant and her team took their bionic concept to the Invictus Games last September, where the firm was invited to present and participate in the the event’s accessibility showcase. She says the inspiring gathering – the games are a celebration of the resiliency of human spirit – connected her with people suffering from vision loss as well as other entrepreneurs and researchers using technology to break down accessibility barriers.

“We got to share our message to the world about how we’re going to bring this to light, so to speak.”

It will likely be another five years before the iBIONICS implant is ready to hit the market. Grant says the pace of innovation usually moves faster than adoption, which means healthcare startups often require more support than others.

She believes those with passion, however, will find allies along the way.

“If you have a highly-purposed mission within your project, the level of support you get is very different.”

Grant says Ottawa has a number of talented healthcare researchers, but the community is often siloed. She contrasts that to Montreal, where she says the ecosystem is well connected.

To hear more about iBIONICS’ vision for the future, watch the video above.