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Brain Implants For Monkeys Move Us One Step Closer To Restoring Vision In Blind People

by : Hannah Smith on : 04 Dec 2020 17:00
Brain Implants For Monkeys Move Us One Step Closer To Restoring Vision In Blind PeoplePA Images

A remedy for blindness could be closer than we think, if a new breakthrough by a team of of Dutch scientists is anything to go by.

Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience say they have successfully experimented with using brain implants to help monkeys process visual information, suggesting there is a way to allow the brain to ‘see’ images without using eyesight.

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The implants are made up of more than 1,000 electrodes, and were placed in the visual cortex of two macaque monkeys. By sending electrical signals to the cortex, researchers found they were able to create dots of light, called ‘phosphenes’, that could be interpreted by the brain to create the illusion of shapes or objects.

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In a series of tasks, the monkeys demonstrated that they could recognise shapes, lines, dots and letters through this form of artificial vision. The findings of the research were published this week in the journal Science.

Pieter Roelfsema told CNN:

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[The visual cortex has] a sort of visual map of space. You can work with it like a matrix board along the highway. If you stimulate or light up multiple boards, you can see patterns.

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While the technology would not be restoring eyesight as we might understand it, scientists think it could be possible to use brain implants to simulate vision in some blind people, by providing the visual cortex with the input usually provided by our eyes. The catch is that the brain would have to have some understanding of shapes and objects to begin with, so it would only be suitable for people who have lost their sight, rather than those born blind.

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In the future, Dr Roelfsema believes that one possibility could be to use smart glasses to capture and translate images into ‘electrical stimulation patterns’ to be sent to the implants. He told CNN the researchers hoped human trials could began as early as 2023.

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Tom Mrsic-Flogel, director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for neural circuits and behaviour, said:

This transformative study adds to the growing body of evidence that links neural activity and sensation.

Studies like these will pave the way for brain implants that augment the function of the brain when it becomes compromised, for example when we lose peripheral vision or hearing.

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Topics: Science, blind, blindness, Now, Tech, Technology

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CNN
  1. CNN

    Experimental brain implants in monkeys offer hope for restoring vision in blind people