Story at a glance
- Researchers are looking for ways to develop technology to help people who are blind.
- In an experiment, a team implanted microelectrodes that can stimulate neurons in the visual cortex in a blind woman.
- The device worked with a small camera and the woman was able to identify some letters and recognize object boundaries.
Researchers have been working for years to try to develop ways to help people who have lost eyesight to navigate the world. In a breakthrough, researchers pair an implanted device with a small camera attached to glasses to help a blind woman “see” shapes.
In a study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers implanted a device with a microelectrode array with 100 microneedles into the visual cortex of a blind woman. The woman had been completely blind for 16 years by this time and the surgery did not negatively affect her brain function. The device was able to stimulate neurons nearby and record their activity.
During the experiment, the woman wore special glasses that could interpret visual data collected by a mini camera and send that information to the electrodes in her brain. The electrodes then stimulated the nearby neurons with white points of light. These points of light helped to create an image.
The woman was able to “identify some letters and recognize object boundaries,” according to the study. “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,” says Eduardo Fernández at the University Miguel Hernandez in Elche, Spain in a press release.
These preliminary results are promising but a lot would need to happen before it could lead to a treatment for blindness. Fernández continues, “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.”
Nevertheless, this experiment has provided valuable information going forward. The team hopes that this research can eventually help blind folks with mobility by being able to identify people and objects. “This new study provides proof-of-principle and demonstrate that our previous findings in monkey experiments can be translated to humans,” says P. Roelfsema, who is a co-author on the study, in the press release. “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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