New-age prosthetic technique enables blind mice to see

by Nancy Owano report

(Medical Xpress) -- A recent TEDMED talk has scientists interested in a presenter’s novel techniques to help the blind. A device with two parts, encoder and transducer, can do the job. Sheila Nirenberg, a neuroscientist and professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, recently discussed the results of her work at TEDMED on how the brain takes external information and encodes it in patterns of electrical activity. She set out to describe what her team found in exploring how the retina communicates with the brain.

Their can potentially be used to treat in humans though their work thus far has been on mice.

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In her lab’s research overview, she writes, “Our lab works on the general question, 'How do networks of neurons process information?', and we use a combined experimental and computational approach.”

Setting out to decode brain activity, they unraveled patterns of electrical pulses and deciphered what an animal may be seeing. She told the TEDMED audience that when tested in mice this prosthetic eye can deliver more accurate images than can other prosthetics. “Current prosthetics do not work very well,” she said. Sight-impaired people who try them succeed in seeing bright lights and edges, but she said there is opportunity to create prosthetics that are more effective than that.

Patterns of pulses coming out of the eye tell the brain what is seen. With the blind person, the brain no longer gets the necessary visual information from the eye. Her prosthetic, with its encoder and transducer, can send out signals that the brain can understand.

“I think the device can make a difference,” she said. Nirenberg and Chethan Pandarinath, both of Weill Medical College, tested their new retinal prosthetic in blind mice and found that it allowed the mice to see a baby’s face.

Fundamentally, Nirenberg is stirring up interest in the very idea that her image encoder transducer can bypass a damaged retina to send these codes to the brain. Her system mimics the complex behavior of the frontline photoreceptor cells, creating a more natural artificial message for the ganglion cells to interpret. It’s seen as a way to jump over damaged circuitry.

Nirenberg is herself eager to talk about the possibilities this may bring to medical science. Finding ways to communicate with the brain and its language can be applied to treat deafness and motor disorders. ”Understanding the code—the language of the brain--is really important,” she told the audience. “If we can understand the language of the , then things become possible that were not possible before.”

Of course much of the interest in seeing her team progress in restoring the vision of mice is tied to knowing what are the prospects for doing similar feats with humans. When asked if she thought that stage was ten years away, she said, no, “I am hoping less.”

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User comments

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roboferret
5 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2011

Three Blind Mice
Three Blind Mice
See how they run
They all went under the scientist's knife
Who implanted prosthetics to fix their eyesight
Did you ever see such a thing in your life!
Three cyborg mice.
ScienceFreak86
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
I can't wait for bionic eye advanced as much as human eye, I have problem with normal vision in one eye(nearsightedness), so this is my only hope to see perfect like an eagle and fully enjoy 3D movies, games and future gadgets like VR google or AR contact lenses
Jeffhans1
4 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2011
Imagine this in 20 years. You will not need to have your eyes open to "see" images captured by super high def cameras. You can also record your visual images for later retrieval and for legal purposes. This is just the beginning but it will be awesome.
MrVibrating
1 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2011
Surely the heat due to active processing will severely limit this tech's potential? You'd think hi-def prosthetic vision will need to be as passive as possible..
atn
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
This is insanely awesome. I'll volunteer for a human trial now!
socean
5 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2011
Imagine this in 20 years.


I imagine actually seeing through other people's eyes. The signal can come from anyone, any sensors, and be augmented/manipulated in infinite ways.

I imagine everyone being able to do this. This technology can change our perceptions, and therefore our reality as a species.

We are all disabled now compared the type of perceptual abilities we will have.

Tangent2
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 24, 2011
I'll be impressed when they start adding different spectrums such as infrared, microwave, ultraviolet, and some night vision just to name a few hehe.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Dec 24, 2011
Now this is what research is for! Too cool.

Sheila Nirenberg has a new fan (me).
Yogaman
not rated yet Dec 24, 2011
A few things people haven't commented yet, and one reply:

1. "I imagine actually seeing through other people's eyes."

Expect some of those other people to include the good folks at Fox, NBC, Sony, etc., and their favorite sponsors.

2. With this, cochlear implants, and cloud connectivity, we can have awesome telepresence. Add a microphone (or someday probably an EEG), for hands-free two-way communication.

3. The reason I wouldn't want to sign up right away is that the video sensors probably aren't yet equal even to my aging eyes in at least some ways, like dynamic range, range of focus, size, power consumption, ease of maintenance, and up-time.

4. What happens to retinally color-blind/-impaired people when their later visual layers get the signals that their retinas never provided?

5. Being old, I can remember that in 1975, it was predicted that vision implants would be in human trial by 2000. Looks like they were off by about 20 years, which still is pretty cool.

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