New retinal implants can give artificial vision to the blind

Credit: Alain Herzog / 2021 EPFL

In a new study, researchers developed technology that could partially restore vision in blind people.

The research was conducted by a team at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.

Restoring eyesight has always been one of the biggest challenges for scientists.

Since 2015, the team had been developing a retinal implant that works with camera-equipped smart glasses and a microcomputer.

The system is designed to give blind people a form of artificial vision by using electrodes to stimulate their retinal cells.

The camera embedded in the smart glasses captures images in the wearer’s field of vision, and sends the data to a microcomputer placed in one of the eyeglasses’ end-pieces.

The microcomputer turns the data into light signals that are transmitted to electrodes in the retinal implant.

The electrodes then stimulate the retina in such a way that the wearer sees a simplified, black-and-white version of the image.

This simplified version is made up of dots of light that appear when the retinal cells are stimulated.

However, wearers must learn to interpret the many dots of light in order to make out shapes and objects.

The only catch is that the system has not yet been tested on humans. The research team first needs to be certain of their results.

They came up with a process for testing it virtually.

More specifically, the engineers developed a virtual reality program that can simulate what patients would see with the implants.

All the experiments demonstrated that the system’s capacity doesn’t need to be improved any further and that it’s ready for clinical trials.

One author of the study is Diego Ghezzi, the Medtronic Chair in Neuroengineering (LNE).

The study is published in Communications Materials.

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