Scientists Use Tiny Brain Implant to Help Blind Teacher See Letters and Objects Again

Former science teacher Berna Gómez played a pivotal role in new research on restoring some sight to blind people. She is named as a co-author of the study that was published this week. / Moran Eye Center, the University of Utah

A former science teacher who’s been blind for 16 years became able to see letters, discern objects’ edges — and even play a Maggie Simpson video game — thanks to a visual prosthesis that includes a camera and a brain implant, according to American and Spanish researchers who collaborated on the project.

The test subject had the implant for six months and experienced no disruptions to her brain activity or other health complications, according to an abstract of the study that was published this week in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The study furthers what it calls a “long-held dream of scientists,” to impart a rudimentary form of sight to blind people by sending information directly to the brain’s visual cortex.

“These results are very exciting because they demonstrate both safety and efficacy,” said one of the lead researchers, Eduardo Fernández of Miguel Hernández University, in a statement. “We have taken a significant step forward, showing the potential of these types of devices to restore functional vision for people who have lost their vision.”

A camera sends visual data directly to the brain

In the experiment, a neurosurgeon implanted a microelectrode array into the visual cortex of Berna Gómez, a former teacher who has been blind for more than 16 years. The implant was then paired with a video camera mounted in the center of a pair of glasses.

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SOURCE: NPR, Bill Chappell