Posted on Feb 17, 2020, 12 p.m.
After being blind for 16 years, scientists have plugged a bionic eye directly into Bernardeta Gomez’s brain, allowing her to see again without using her biological eyes after she had a computer port surgically embedded into her skull.
The vision system is being honed by neuriengineer Eduardo Fernandez in his lab at the University of Miguel Hernandez, and it is comprised of a few different parts according to the publication in MIT Technology Review.
There is a pair of glasses that are fitted with a camera that connects to a computer which translates the live video feed into electronic signals that are then sent via a cable to the port which has been surgically embedded into the back of Gomez’s skull and connects to an implant in the visual cortex of her brain.
This was implanted for 6 months during which time she was approved to test the bionic eye before the 100 electrode implant was removed. Before being removed Gomez was at the lab four times a week using the system to see a low res version of the world around her, the version she saw was more like little glowing dots are around her that was enough to allow her to identify letters, light people, and play a simple computer game that was streamed directly into her brain.
After this initial testing the scientists know how the bionic eye works, and they are planning the next steps which includes testing ways to prevent the implant from degrading while in the body and testing the system on more people.
“Berna was our first patient, but over the next couple of years we will install implants in five more blind people,” Fernandez told MIT Tech. “We had done similar experiments in animals, but a cat or a monkey can’t explain what it’s seeing.”
Fernandez is not the only scientist to be researching and developing bionic eyesight that can restore vision while bypassing biological eyes, and the approach may have a great impact for those in the seeing impaired community.
“Previously all attempts to create a ‘bionic eye’ focused on implanting into the eye itself,” Alex Shortt, a surgeon at Optegra Eye Hospital, told The Daily Mail in a July 2019 story focused on a system that works similarly to Fernandez’s. “It required you to have a working eye, a working optic nerve. By bypassing the eye completely, you open the potential up to many, many more people.”
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