Could new microchips implanted in the back of the eye restore sight to the blind?
|Image Credit: Iris Health.com|
The treatment method being studied to try to improve their vision loss consisted of a small implantable microchip containing 1500 microscopic photo-diodes, a small type of light detector capable of converting light into small electric currents. These diodes were surgically implanted onto their damaged retinas (the light sensing organ of the eye), and connected to the various retinal nerve fibres. The whole principle being to replace their defective retinas with artificial look-a-likes (get it, look a-likes). When light struck these photo-diodes, they produced an electrical pulse that was detected by the bipolar cells of the retina, which could then theoretically be perceived by the brain as sight.
What was discovered was quite astonishing. After implantation, three completely blind persons could now discern objects by sight alone and name them too, locate objects in a visual field, and discern various shades of gray. They were also able to talk to and approach people in a room and properly identify those people. And they were also able to read to an extent (albeit with large font). To go from functionally blind to being able to do the above is nothing short of amazing.
The potential for future development is also quite large. What was discovered was that increasing the amount of photo-diodes increased the visual perception, contrast, and resolution of the image they were seeing. With the ever decreasing size of microelectronics, I could see this technology develop to give the blind the ability to see the equivalent of a black and white movie in the near future, and eventually (somehow) the ability to see colour. However, questions arise. What would happen if you give someone their sight who has never seen before, that is if they have been blind from birth. I'm curious as to how they would perceive the world or if their brain still interprets images the same way. For now I think I'll just sit back and be grateful that these retinal implants work as well as they do. Regardless, this is once again another amazing development which has the ability to eliminate a condition that has plagued humanity since nearly forever. I for one will not miss it when it goes.
You can read the original research paper by the RSBS here: