Brain implant can show shapes to blind people

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Published: December 4, 2020

Blind people may be able to partially regain their vision in the future, thanks to newly developed brain implants. These implants make it possible to recognize images without affecting the eyes. The first research results are very promising.

The implants are intended for use in the cerebral cortex, the part in the brain where, among other things, visual information is processed. The idea of stimulating the cerebral cortex with an implant dates back to the 1970s, but the researchers are using new implants with many more electrodes in the cerebral cortex than was previously possible.

The research team developed implants with 1024 electrodes and placed them in the visual cerebral cortex of rhesus monkeys. The implant is directly connected to the brain, thus bypassing the stages of visual processing by the eye or optic nerve. The result is an image made up of a kind of pixels. The monkeys were able to recognize shapes such as lines and moving dots by this artificial vision.

In the future, such technology could be used to restore the vision of people who have become blind due to injury or deterioration of the retina, eye or optic nerve, but whose visual cortex is still intact. The research lays the foundation for the development of a brain prosthesis that could enable blind people to see functionally again and recognize objects. Navigating in an unfamiliar environment may also become possible.