A team of researchers from the University Miguel Hernandez (Spain), the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience (Netherlands), and the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah (USA) recently published details about how they were able to successfully restore vision in a woman using a brain implant.
The scientists oversaw a series of tests with the blind volunteer to eventually recreate her vision. First, a neurosurgeon implanted a microelectrode array into her visual cortex, which was composed of 100 microneedles intended to stimulate neurons near the electrodes. The woman wore eyeglasses outfitted with a mini video camera which translated the data collected and sent to the brains electrodes. Finally, the brain simulated the image by surrounding neurons to produce white areas of light known as “phosphenes.”
A former science teacher, the woman had been blind for 16 years. No complications were seen post-op, and scientists concluded the implant did not affect brain function.
Lines, shapes, and letters were visible to the blind woman. The researchers developed a game to help her strengthen and recognize the different phosphene shapes. Because of her extensive involvement and unique insight, the woman became a co-author of the study.
Professor Eduardo Fernandez said, “These results are very exciting because they demonstrate both safety and efficacy and could help to achieve a long-held dream of many scientists, which is the transfer information from the outside world directly to the visual cortex of blind individuals, thereby restoring a rudimentary form of sight. Although these preliminary results are very encouraging, we should be aware that there are still a number of important unanswered questions and that many problems have to be solved before a cortical visual prosthesis can be considered a viable clinical therapy.”
Professor R. A. Normann, a study co-author, said, “It could allow them to identify a person, doorways, or cars. It could increase independence and safety. That’s what we’re working toward.”
Professor P. Roelfsema, a co-author in the study, said, “This new study provides proof-of-principle and demonstrates that our previous findings in monkey experiments can be translated to humans. This work is likely to become a milestone for the development of new technologies that could transform the treatment of blindness.”
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