Human Trials Set To Begin For Bionic Eye That Links To Brain Chip
After 10 years of development, Australian scientists are preparing their blindness-curing bionic eye for human trials.
The Gennaris bionic vision system is a groundbreaking work of technology, the ‘world’s first’ brain implant aimed at restoring sight in humans. The system comprises of ‘custom headgear with a camera and wireless transmitter, a vision processor unit and software, and a series of 9x9mm tiles’.
Coming from the whizzes at Monash University, it’s hot on the heels of Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a brain chip that will reportedly help with blindness, Parkinson’s disease, quadriplegia, as well as potentially allowing users to communicate telepathically or stream music directly to their brain.
On the university’s website, it explains that ‘many people who are blind have damaged optic nerves, which prevent signals being transmitted from the retina to the vision centre of the brain’. Ergo, the ‘bionic eye’ bypasses this damage, ‘making it possible to treat many conditions for which other technologies have limited benefit’.
Explaining further how the system works, it adds: ‘The scene captured by the video camera in the headgear will be sent to the vision processor – similar in size to a smartphone – where it will be processed to extract the most useful information.’
From here, the ‘processed data will be transmitted wirelessly to complex circuitry within each implanted tile; this will convert the data into a pattern of electrical pulses, which will stimulate the brain via the microelectrode array’.
In turn, this should ‘provide enough information for the user to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognise the presence of people and objects around them’.
Dr. Yan Wong from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute said:
The commercialisation of the bionic vision technology also ties in nicely to our plans for exploring further applications beyond vision and spinal cord injury, such as the moderation of epilepsy and depression, brain-controlled prosthetics, and the restoration of other vital senses.
As a result of the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Frontier Health and Medical Research Program, the project received $1 million last year, with more fundraising to come. ‘It aligns with our capabilities in neurobionics at Monash University, and having an engaged industry partner to work alongside will be of enormous value,’ Dr. Wong added.
In prior trials, researches implanted the 10 devices in sheep via a purpose-made insertion system. Incredibly, more than 2,700 hours of stimulation were performed without any observable adverse health effects.
If successful in securing further funding, the team will look to create ‘a new commercial enterprise focused on providing vision to people with untreatable blindness and movement to the arms of people paralysed by quadriplegia, transforming their healthcare’.
Musk showed off the Neuralink chip on August 28, implanted in a pig named Gertrude. While definitely still in its infancy, with the demonstration intended as a proof-of-concept more than anything else, the startup has already raised more than $158 million in funding.
There’s currently no date for human trials of the Gennaris bionic vision system, nor the Neuralink.
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