Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Susan Young Rojahn

A View from Susan Young Rojahn

How a Vision Prosthetic Could Bypass the Visual System

Electrical stimulation of the visual cortex may one day give image perception to blind people.

  • October 16, 2012

Work presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans today suggests a way to create a completely new kind of visual prosthetic—one that restores vision by directly activating the brain.

In a poster session, researchers presented results showing how electrical stimulation of the visual cortex can evoke the sensation of simple flashes of light—including spatial information about those flashes.

While other researchers are trying to develop artificial retinas that feed visual signals into existing sensory pathways (see “A Retinal Prosthetic Powered by Light” and “Now I See You” for instance), the team behind the new work, from the Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, is exploring the possibility of bypassing those routes all together. This could be vital for those whose retinas are unable to receive retinal stimulation.

The researchers used electrodes to stimulate the brains of three patients who were already undergoing brian surgery to treat epilepsy. All three were able to detect bright spots of light, called phosphenes, when certain regions of their brains were stimulated. And, in seven out of eight trials, the patients were able to correctly see the orientation of a phosphene—in one of two orientations, depending on the stimulation they received. 

The work builds upon a study published by the same team in Nature Neuroscience this summer. In that study, the researchers defined which areas of the brain produce phosphene perception when patients’ brains were electrically stimulated.

press release related to the earlier work says that the researchers “plan to conduct a larger patient study and create multiple flashes of light at the same time. Twenty-seven or so simultaneous flashes might allow participants to see the outline of a letter.”

Get stories like this before anyone else with First Look.

Subscribe today
Already a Premium subscriber? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.