Blind Woman Can See Letters Thanks to a Brain Implant
Blindness is still an incurable condition, but the development of a new microelectrode array-based implant may be a step towards facilitating the lives of affected individuals. An international team of scientists partnered up and conducted a study involving the implantation of the Utah Electrode Array (UEA) to stimulate a visual response by the brain, thus enabling a 57-year-old woman who has been blind for 16 years to identify letters and shapes.
The only form of sight experienced by blind people is spontaneous phosphenes, which means they can perceive flashes of light even though the light never entered their eyes. The research team implanted the UEA, consisting of 96 penetrating microelectrodes, into the visual cortex of the participant’s brain to induce artificial phosphenes and restore her functional eyesight.
The implant was connected to a pair of glasses specifically designed to monitor eye movement. After a period of adaptation, the participant was able to differentiate between spontaneous and induced phosphenes, after which she was put to training over six months. Gradually, the participant could discern letters and shapes if several electrodes stimulated them at once within a certain space. She could eventually recognize several letters and even differentiate uppercase and lowercase letters.
This research aims to provide better orientation and more independence for blind individuals in their everyday lives rather than fully restoring their vision. Dr. Eduardo Fernandez, the lead author of the study, explains that their project is still in the research phase and cannot be considered a clinical treatment and that multidisciplinary collaboration is required for this approach to be fully developed and verified.