Surgeons in Los Angeles have successfully implanted a visual simulator chip into the brain of a 30-year-old blind patient. This patient, who wished to remain anonymous, has been blind for seven years. After the chip was implanted in her brain, however, she told reporters that she could see flashes and spots of colour. All of these signals were successfully sent into her brain via computer.
Although this alone is a major achievement, the patient's doctors want to take this technology to the next level. These University of California doctors have asked the U.S. government to allow them to connect a camera to this chip.
The camera will be worn on a pair of glasses and, if this technology works, send the images wirelessly to the patient's brain. Of course, if this works, it would mean these doctors will have successfully created the world's first bionic eye.
If the FDA allows this test to go through, and if it is successful, this would a revolutionary treatment for the blind. This surgery and device could potentially restore sight to millions of people around the world. Also, since this device bypasses the eye and goes straight into the brain, people who have lost an eye will be able to use this device.
Dr. Nader Pouratain was the head surgeon in this operation. He told reporters that watching his patient react to seeing the various colours was an extremely special moment for him and his staff. He believes this technology has the potential to help blind people see again.
In terms of the specifics of the procedure, surgeons had to put a stimulator full of electrodes in the back of the patient's brain. They made a tiny hole in the back of the patient's skull and then placed this stimulator on the surface of the patient's brain. In order to receive the signals from the computer, the surgeons also implanted an antenna receiver into the tiny gap in the patient's skull. This whole procedure took about four hours.
This Californian patient suffered from a rare eye disease known as Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome (VKH). VKH attacks the eyes' pigments first and it often leads to blindness over time. In the case of this anonymous patient, this disease took away her sight within a year.
If they get FDA approval, these doctors want to use a camera called the Orion I on the patient. They will place this camera on the bridge of the patient's glasses so she will hopefully be able to see what is in front of her.
Some people may recall that the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital did similar tests with a device called the Argus II not too long ago. This camera was able to send images to implants in the back of the eye in a few patients last year. However, patients using the Argus II had to have some retinal cells still working in their eyes for this technology to work.