New brain implant model may help blind people gain rudimentary vision

Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) said that brain implants can help in the restoration of vision for the visually impaired.

The study, published in the journal Science, revealed that high-resolution implants in the visual cortex of people who are blind can help them understand artificially-induced percepts and shapes.

For the research, scientists at NIN led by Pieter Roelfsema, are using new implant production and implantation technologies, advanced materials engineering, microchip manufacturing, and microelectronics, to develop more stable devices and durable than previous implants.

For the experiment, the team designed high-resolution implants consisting of 1,024 electrodes and implanted them in the visual cortex of two short-sighted monkeys.

Their goal was to create interpretable images by delivering electrical stimulation simultaneously via several electrodes, to generate a percept composed of several phosphenes, the study stated.

The researchers made the monkeys perform a simple behavioural task in which they made eye movements in order to signal the location of a phosphene that was triggered during electrical stimulation by an individual electrode.

Later, the researchers assigned them more complex tasks such as a motion direction task, in which micro-stimulation was delivered on a sequence of electrodes, and a letter discrimination task, in which micro-stimulation was delivered to eight to 15 electrodes simultaneously.

The monkeys were able to recognise shapes and percepts, including lines, moving dots, and letters, using their artificial vision.

Xing Chen, a postdoctoral researcher in the Roelfsema team explained: “Our implant interfaces directly with the brain, bypassing prior stages of visual processing via the eye or the optic nerve. Hence, in the future, such technology could be used for the restoration of low vision in blind people who have suffered injury or degeneration of the retina, eye or optic nerve, but whose cortex visual remains intact.”

This research stated that this rudimentary vision will help blind people navigate in unfriendly environments and interact more easily in social settings. This will further improve their independence.

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