Scientists are moving closer to creating a technology that will restore vision for the blind, thanks to a team of Dutch researchers who successfully built an implant that bypasses the eyes and allows monkeys to perceive artificially induced patterns in their brains.
The research team at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) developed the technology published in Science magazine on Thursday.
The technology hinges on an idea put forward decades ago: that electrically stimulating the brain would help it see lit dots known as phosphenes, which are similar to pixels on a digital screen.
The experts developed implants with 1,024 electrodes — the ones producing electrical impulses that regulate abnormal impulses — and implanted them in two macaque monkeys’ visual cortex, which is part of the brain that processes visual information.
The monkeys performed a series of tasks during the experiment. Using their artificial vision, the monkeys were able to recognize shapes and “percepts” including moving dots, lines, and letters.
“Our implant interfaces directly with the brain, bypassing prior stages of visual processing via the eye or the optic nerve,” said Xing Chen, a postdoctoral researcher in the team of Dutch researchers. “In the future, such technology could be used for the restoration of low vision in blind people who have suffered injury or degeneration of the retina, eye, or optic nerve, but whose visual cortex remains intact.”