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Beijing - A six-year-old Chinese boy who had his eyes gouged out went into surgery on Tuesday in the first step towards fitting realistic moving artificial eyes.
Doctors hope schoolboy Guo Bin will also soon be able to feel shape and movement using sensors on his forehead or tongue which translate images from a glasses-mounted camera into electronic pulses.
The boy - known as Bin-Bin - was found covered in blood with his eyes removed near his home in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi in August after going missing while playing outside.
Chinese police suspect his aunt, who killed herself days later, was responsible.
Hong Kong-based eye expert Dennis Lam offered to treat the boy for free at his clinic in the southern city of Shenzhen.
The rehabilitation will first involve surgery to give the boy realistic prosthetic eyes, and then the fitting of sensors to help him “navigate”.
The first step, taken on Tuesday, was a three to four hour operation to fit implants, Inggie Ho, a spokeswoman for the C-MER Dennis Lam Eye Hospital told AFP.
“It's like an artificial eyeball to give volume to the eye so you can put the eyeshell on it, otherwise it will collapse,” she said.
If there is not enough tissue to support the eyeball doctors will use a skin and fat transplant from the buttocks.
The schoolboy will have at least a month to recover before the shell, or ocular prosthesis, is attached giving the appearance of a normal eye.
The “eyes” will be attached to tissue and muscle to give normal movement.
But the “sight”, or navigation, will rely on the sensory devices, a technology already in use in Japan and Europe.
Lam hopes the boy may eventually partially regain his sight using “bionic eyes” linked directly to the brain - but said this technology was at least five to 10 years away.
“We don't know if this will be successful in the end, but if there is this possibility, then why should we not give a chance to little Bin-Bin?” he told a press conference.
The aunt, who state news agency Xinhua named as Zhang Huiying, killed herself by jumping into a village well.
Xinhua said police found the boy's blood on his aunt's clothes following DNA tests.
After the attack the boy was unaware that he had been blinded, the Beijing Youth Daily said.
“He asks why the sky is always dark... and why the dawn still hasn't come,” it quoted an uncle of the boy as saying.