A 60-year- old woman, Gómez, who was fully blind for more than 16 years has her vision restored using a prosthesis hardwired into her brain. The successful artificial vision was created by team of scientists in the US.
The Utah electrode array, developed by Richard A. Normann, a scientist at John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, could both record and stimulate the electrical activities of neurons. A neurosurgeon implanted a microelectrode array invented by Normann, the Utah Electrode Array (UEA), into the visual cortex of Gómez to record and stimulate the electrical activities of neurons.
Gómez wore eyeglasses equipped with a miniature video camera; specialized software encoded the visual data collected by the camera and sent it to the UEA. The array then stimulated neurons to produce phosphenes, perceived by Gómez as white points of light, to create an image.
Gomez, a former science teacher was fully blind for 16 years at the time of the experiments. She had no complications from the surgery and researchers determined that the UEA did not impair the function of neurons in close proximity to the electrodes or affect the function of the underlying cortex. Gómez was able to identify lines, shapes and simple letters evoked by different patterns of stimulation.
To help her practice using the prosthesis, researchers created a video game for Gómez to play using a character from the popular television show The Simpsons. Her precise descriptions of visual perceptions helped the research. Gómez is a co-author on the study.
“These results are very exciting because they demonstrate both safety and efficacy,” said Eduardo Fernandez, Professor at Moran.
“We have taken a significant step forward, showing the potential of these types of devices to restore functional vision for people who have lost their vision,” he added in the paper published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.