Tests on a new kind of prosthetic eye have proven successful, meaning that the technology could someday allow around 25 million people who are blind due to retinal diseases to see in crystal clarity, by having much stronger intercommunication when portraying the image to the brain.
Shiela Nirenberg and Chetan Pandarinath, of Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York city have tested this retinal prosthetic in blind mice, discovering it gave them the power to see individual dimples on a baby's face. With this success comes the potential of human use.
Currently, prosthetics are rather ambiguous in image detail, highlighting bright spots and edges; but never really capturing an entire scene. So this new implant comes from a background of many scientists dead-set on making the power behind the prosthetic and the message sent from the eye to the brain stronger. Nirenberg also suggested a second area of focus in the product at TEDMED, focussing on the cell activity in the retina, what she described as “a big problem lurking in the background.”
In a healthy human eye the cells, called photoreceptors, respond to the light around them and create a massively complex code, which is sent as a visual-electrical impulses to the brain to be reconstructed into the scene you see in front of you. Since every scene is different, so is the code, and when a retina is diseased or degenerated the protoreceptor cells die, and there is no message to send in the first place.
Nirenberg's option revolves around recreating the the behaviour of the photoreceptor cells to give a prosthetic implant that acts much more naturally in the general scheme of things. Other products produce simpler codes which our brains aren't used to receiving, which gives the limited vision that prosthetics create today.
“If you want to really restore normal vision, you have to know the retina’s code,” Nirenberg claimed in her presentation. “Once you have that, the door is open to the possibility of restoring normal vision.”
The video of her presenting this innovation at the TEDMED conference is below. Really quite fascinating.