A visual implant developed by a team of scientists has allowed a blind woman to see simple, two-dimensional small shapes. The visual prosthesis used by the researchers who performed the experiment holds the potential to revolutionize the way blind and partially-blind individuals get treatment for their optic conditions.
Berna Gomez is a resident of Elche; she had been blind for 16 years, due to toxic optic neuropathy. For context, toxic optic neuropathy destroys the optic nerve and renders a person blind. In 2018, Gomez took the bold decision of volunteering as the first patient to have a tiny electrode implanted in the visual part of her brain, the visual cortex. This visual implant, called the Utah Electrode Array(UEA) had ninety-six microneedles, and was as small as 4mm×4mm.
Gomez had to spend hours and undergo many tests and training in the lab for 6 months after the installation of the prosthesis. However, she did not face any discomfort. Through the months of increasing stimulation, the subject could see pricks, specs and spots of light. Eventually, scientists induced vertical and horizontal lines, which Gomez was able to perceive.
In the last month of the experiment, the tests were taken up a notch to detect if Gomez could perceive objects and letters. For this she was given special glasses embedded with miniature video cameras. The camera scanned the objects in front of her and stimulated different combinations of electrodes in her brain via the visual prosthesis. Fortunately, she was able to perceive shapes with 100% accuracy and some alphabets, too.
The exceptional study was led by Richard Normann of John A. Moran Eye Center in Utah, the United States, and Eduardo Fernández of the Miguel Hernandez University in Spain.
Restoration of even a part of vision for those visually impaired can lead to a transformation in quality of life. To be able to see beyond the dark and recognise objects is undoubtedly a step towards increasing independence. That is what the team is working towards.
If you are just as amazed by this visual prosthesis, you’ll also like this pair of smart shoes – another assistive technology for the visually impaired