Scientists used a tiny brain implant to help a blind teacher see letters again

Scientists created a tiny brain implant that allowed blind teachers to see again.
Click to enlarge the image and toggle caption Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah Moran Eye Center.

According to American and Spanish researchers, a vision prosthesis, which includes a camera and brain implant, helped a former science teacher become able to read letters and discern the edges of objects.

According to the abstract of the study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, the test subject was implanted for six months. She experienced no interruptions to brain activity or any other health problems.

This study advances what scientists have long hoped for: to give blind people a basic form of sight by sending information directly into the brain's visual cortex.

Eduardo Fernndez, Miguel Hernndez University's lead researcher, said in a statement that "these results are very exciting because it shows both safety and efficacy." "We made a significant breakthrough by demonstrating the potential of these devices to restore functional sight for people who have lost their eyesight."

A camera transmits visual data directly from the camera to the brain

A neurosurgeon placed a microelectrode array in Berna Gmez's visual cortex. Berna is a former teacher who was blind for 16 years. The implant was then paired up with a video camera that was mounted in the middle of a pair glasses.

Gmez was able, after a period of training, to decipher the visual information fed directly from the camera to her brain.

Gmez learned how to interpret signals from the electrodes through a videogame. The game shows Maggie Simpson holding a gun in her right or left hand. Gmez was able to correctly identify which hand held the weapon.

Gmez was 57 at the time of the study. Gmez was named co-author of this study due to her participation and her ability to provide clinically accurate feedback to scientists.

Gmez was not able to identify all letters of alphabet because of the limited effects of the prosthesis. According to the study, she was able to "reliably distinguish" some letters like 'I', 'L', 'C', 'V', and 'O'.

Additional electrodes could be used to increase visual data in future studies

Researchers describe the procedure as a minicraniotomy, which involves implanting the microelectrode array through the skull. This is a straightforward process that follows standard neurosurgical procedures. The procedure involves drilling a 1.5-cm hole into the skull (a little more than half an inch).

Although the array measures just 4mm in square (or about an eighth of an inches), it can hold 96 electrodes. According to the researchers, previous studies found that around 700 electrodes could provide enough visual information for blind people to increase their mobility. The implant only required small amounts of electrical current to stimulate the visual cortex. Researchers hope to expand the use of microarrays in future experiments.

Richard Normann, a researcher from the John A. Moran eye Center at the University of Utah, stated that "one goal of this research was to give a blind person greater mobility." It could help them identify people, doors, and cars more easily. It could improve safety and independence. We are working towards that goal.

The clinical trial for the study will continue until May 2024. The research is funded by several entities, including the Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain and Miguel Hernndez University as well as Moran Eye Center.

Researchers believe that the method of bypassing the eye could one day restore vision to approximately 148 million people around the world. This is due to the fact that many people have lost the link between their eyes, brain, and eyes, such as optic nerve atrophy or glaucoma.

Researchers from Utah and Spain used a similar approach to last year's when they were able get volunteers to read letters using electricity sent through electrodes to the brain's surface.

Scientists are developing several strategies to assist people with visual impairment, which is one of the most common disabilities worldwide. Scientists used the CRISPR gene editing tool to alter DNA to combat rare genetic eye diseases.