Australian Researchers Develop Brain Implant That May Restore Limited Sight In Blind People

Monash University brain implant for blind people
Image credit: Monash University

Researchers at Monash University in Australia have developed a brain implant that may restore limited sight in blind people.

Many people who are clinically blind have damaged optic nerves. These prevent signals being transmitted from the retina to the ‘vision center’ of the brain. The Gennaris bionic vision system involves bypassing the eye completely and targeting the vision center of the brain. The system can bypass this damage, making it possible to treat many conditions that currently have treatment limitations. Gennaris is the brainchild of the Monash Vision Group (MVG).

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The system comprises custom-designed headgear with a camera and wireless transmitter, a vision processor unit and software, and a set of 9×9mm tiles that are implanted into the brain.

The scene captured by the video camera in the headgear will be sent to the vision processor – similar in size to a smartphone – where it will be processed to extract the most useful information.

The processed data is then transmitted wirelessly to complex circuitry within each implanted tile; this will convert the data into a pattern of electrical pulses, which will stimulate the brain via hair-thin microelectrodes, reports Monash University.

Brain implant
Image credit: Monash University

More than 10 years in the making, this project has the potential to stimulate growth in Australian manufacturing of brain implant systems. With additional funding, this life-changing technology will be made in Melbourne for distribution globally.

“Cortical vision prostheses aim to restore visual perception to those who have lost vision by delivering electrical stimulation to the visual cortex – the region of the brain that receives, integrates and processes visual information,” Professor Arthur Lowery, also from the University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, said.

“Our design creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light (phosphenes) which provides information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognize the presence of people and objects around them.”

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Further investigations have shown promise for this technology to deliver improved health outcomes to patients with otherwise untreatable neurological conditions, such as limb paralysis.

“If successful, the MVG team will look to create a new commercial enterprise focused on providing vision to people with untreatable blindness and movement to the arms of people paralyzed by quadriplegia, transforming their health care,” Dr Lewis said.

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