New implant helps blind Spanish woman to vaguely see the world

New implant helps blind Spanish woman to vaguely see the world

PanARMENIAN.Net - A woman in Spain, who had been blind for 16 years, has been able to see a very low-resolution semblance of the world thanks to a new technology, MIT technology review reveals.

When Bernardeta Gómez was 42, toxic optic neuropathy destroyed the bundles of nerves that connect Gómez’s eyes to her brain, rendering her totally without sight. She’s unable even to detect light.

But after 16 years of darkness, Gómez was given a six-month window during which she could see a very low-resolution semblance of the world represented by glowing white-yellow dots and shapes. This was possible thanks to a modified pair of glasses, blacked out and fitted with a tiny camera. The contraption is hooked up to a computer that processes a live video feed, turning it into electronic signals. A cable suspended from the ceiling links the system to a port embedded in the back of Gómez’s skull that is wired to a 100-electrode implant in the visual cortex in the rear of her brain.

Using this, Gómez identified ceiling lights, letters, basic shapes printed on paper, and people. She even played a simple Pac-Man–like computer game piped directly into her brain. Four days a week for the duration of the experiment, Gómez was led to a lab by her sighted husband and hooked into the system.

Gómez’s first moment of sight, at the end of 2018, was the culmination of decades of research by Eduardo Fernandez, director of neuroengineering at the University of Miguel Hernandez, in Elche, Spain. His goal: to return sight to as many as possible of the 36 million blind people worldwide who wish to see again. Fernandez’s approach is particularly exciting because it bypasses the eye and optical nerves.

Much of the earlier research attempts to restore vision by creating an artificial eye or retina. It worked, but the vast majority of blind people, like Gómez, have damage to the nerve system connecting the retina to the back of the brain. An artificial eye won’t solve their blindness.

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