Current eye products are limited in their ability to provide aid for people with degenerative diseases of the retina, the part of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses to the brain. However, researchers have recently restored sight to blind mice by using a device that helps the diseased retina send signals to the brain.
According to Bloomberg.com, researchers have cracked the code that the retina uses to communicate with the brain.
“The technology moves prosthetics beyond bright light and high-contrast recognition and may be adopted for human use within a year or two, said Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and the study’s lead author.
In order for Nirenberg and co-author Chethan Pandarinath to crack the code, Newser reports that they first studied and monitored healthy eyes. After determining the set of equations needed to send these specific signals, they then used special glasses to create a similar code and deliver it to the eye, which had been engineered to contain light-sensitive proteins. The cells would then recieve the code through the combination of the light sensitive proteins and the fired electruc impulses from the glasses. This code was then interpreted into images by the brain.
Aude Oliva, a principle investigator at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts says that Nirenberg’s research “is basically giving vision back to a system that doesn’t work. I’ve never seen, and other people have never seen, this quality.”
About 20 million people worldwide are blind or facing blindeness due to these types of diseases involving retina degeneration. If researchers can come up with adequate funding for clinical trials in humans, Nirenberg hopes to soon adapt the technology for human use.
This is a big discovery for the world of medical advancement.