Can we restore ‘sight’ with brain implants, electrical currents?


In a sense, our eyes are sophisticated cameras; the brain’s visual cortex runs the software that tells us what we’re seeing.

What about the reverse? If you directly program a scene into the visual cortex by electrically stimulating its neurons, are our biological cameras even necessary?

In a preliminary study presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference [November 5], a team developed a visual prosthetic that does just that. Here, the team used an implanted array of electrodes in the visual cortex to directly input visual information into the brain—bypassing eyes that have been damaged by age or disease.

By systematically “drawing” letter-like shapes through sequentially activating the electrodes, the team showed that blind patients could discern simple shapes.

An analogy is tracing letters on your hand. For example, if someone simultaneously touches multiple points on your palm that collectively make up the letter z, it’s close to impossible to decipher the letter based on touch alone.

Related article:  Pioneering gene therapy restores vision to people with rare retinal blindness

This is what previous generations of visual cortical prosthetics tried to do, and patients just see amorphous light blobs.

In contrast, dynamically drawing the same shape in a trajectory that matches “z” makes it easy to figure out the letter.

“What we’ve done is essentially the same idea…instead of tracing the letter on a patient’s palm, we traced it directly on their brain using electrical currents,” said [researcher Michael] Beauchamp.

Read full, original post: Incepting Sight? This Brain Implant Lets Blind Patients “See” Letters

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