New 'Bionic Eye' Linked to Chip in Brain Could Cure Blindness
- September, 16, 2020 - 15:15
- Science news
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A team of researchers has built a bionic device that they say can restore vision to the blind through a brain implant.
It has been more than 10 years in the making, but scientists are preparing to implant a 'bionic eye' in a human subject.
Researchers at Monash University have developed wireless implants that sit on the surface of the brain, which are said to restore vision to the blind, the Daily Mail reported.
Called Gennaris bionic vision system, it includes a custom headgear fitted with a camera and wireless transmitter, a vision processor unit and software and a set of 9x9 millimeter tiles that are implanted into the brain.
Studies of the device, used in sheep, were found to be successful and did not produce any adverse health effects.
The team is currently seeking funding to ramp up manufacturing and distribution of the implant, which they say could soon be used to cure other ailments including paralysis.
The Australian scientists are just one of many working towards connecting the brain to a computer, as Elon Musk has also been designing a chip that he demonstrated in pigs recently.
Monash University began designing its 'Gennaris bionic vision system' more than a decade ago, which is a 'world's first' brain implant aimed at restoring site – and it is being prepared for human trials.
The Gennaris bionic vision system is capable of bypassing damaged optic nerves, which are blocking signals being sent from the retina to the 'vision center' of the brain.
The design includes a custom headgear fitted with a camera and wireless transmitter, a vision processor unit and software, and a set of 9x9 millimeter tiles that are implanted into the brain.
The attached camera captures the user's surrounding scene and sends it to the vision processor where the technology extracts data from the transmission.
This then flows to the complex circuitry in each of the implants and is converted into a pattern of electrical pulses that stimulates the brain using microelectrodes.
Professor Lowery, also from the University's Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, said: 'Cortical vision prostheses aim to restore visual perception to those who have lost vision by delivering electrical stimulation to the visual cortex – the region of the brain that receives, integrates and processes visual information.'
'Our design creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light (phosphenes) which provides information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognize the presence of people and objects around them.'
The team received $1 million in funding last year and is raising another round that is due to occur later this year.
'If successful, the MVG team will look to create a new commercial enterprise focused on providing vision to people with untreatable blindness and movement to the arms of people paralyzed by quadriplegia, transforming their health care,' Dr Lewis said.
With the bionic vision system moving into commercial stages, the team is hopefully it could evolve to cure other aliments other than blindness.
Dr. Yan Wong from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute said: 'The commercialization of the bionic vision technology also ties in nicely to our plans for exploring further applications beyond vision and spinal cord injury, such as the moderation of epilepsy and depression, brain-controlled prosthetics, and the restoration of other vital senses.
'It aligns with our capabilities in neurobionics at Monash University, and having an engaged industry partner to work alongside will be of enormous value.'
In preclinical studies, the team implanted 10 devices in sheep using a purpose-built insertion system.
Stimulation was delivered through the seven active devices for up to nine months and more than 2,700 hours of stimulation was performed without any observable adverse health effects.
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been working tirelessly on a similar device through his brain chip startup Neuralink, which he demonstrated in August.
The three little pig's demo, as he called it, showed an animal named Gertrude with the brain implant. While she snuffed around in a pen, viewers saw her brain activity on a large screen.
When plans to develop the brain-computer interface were first revealed, the firm positioned it as a way to enable people with quadriplegia to control technologies, like a computer or smartphone, with their mind.
However, as many of Musk's ventures evolve the system developed into much more.
He touched on the idea of 'conceptual telepathy,' which allows two individuals to communicate through thoughts with the help of technology.