Scientists from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Italy have developed an eye implant to restore the eyesight of a blind person by stimulating the optic nerve with a new type of an intraneural electrode called OpticSELINE.
Blindness is estimated to affect 39 million people across the world. Various factors can induce blindness, such as genetics, retinal detachment, trauma, stroke in the visual cortex, glaucoma, cataract, inflammation or infection. While there are some blindness that is temporary and can be medically treated, at present there is no major solution to permanent blindness.
The new technology has been successfully tested in rabbits, and scientists are hopeful that it will bring similar results in humans as well. One of the key advantages of this approach is that it can be used on a much larger range of people.
“We believe that intraneural stimulation can be a valuable solution for several neuroprosthetic devices for sensory and motor function restoration,” EPFL’s Bertarelli Foundation Chair in Translational Neuroengineering, Silvestro Micera said in a statement. “The translational potentials of this approach are indeed extremely promising.”
The OpticSELINE is an array of 12 electrodes which deliver an electric current to the optic nerve after which the scientists check the activity in the brain’s visual cortex. They developed an elaborate algorithm to decode the cortical signals from the brain. They showed that each electrode induced a unique and specific pattern of cortical activation in the brain. This suggests that the intraneural stimulation of the optic nerve is selective and informative.
Given the current electrode technology, around 48 to 60 electrodes could be contained in a human OpticSELINE. However, this is not sufficient enough to completely restore the sight but it could be used to provide some basic vision to the blind people and make their day to day lives comparatively better.
According to EPFL’s Medtronic Chair in Neuroengineering Diego Ghezzi “For now, we know that intraneural stimulation has the potential to provide informative visual patterns. It will take feedback from patients in future clinical trials in order to fine-tune those patterns. From a purely technological perspective, we could do clinical trials tomorrow.”