Retinal Implant Could Help Restore Part of Vision

BOSTON – Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a retinal implant for people who have lost their vision.

The retinal prosthesis may help restore some vision by electrically stimulating nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain.

The chip will not restore normal vision but can help blind people navigate a room or walk down a sidewalk more easily, say MIT researchers.

โ€œAnything that could help them see a little better and let them identify objects and move around a room would be an enormous help,โ€ says Shawn Kelly, a researcher at MIT.

Patients who receive the implant would wear a pair of glasses with a camera that sends images to a micro-chip attached to the eyeball.

The glasses also contain a coil that wirelessly transmits power to receiving coils surrounding the eyeball. When the micro-chip receives visual information, it activates electrodes that stimulates nerve cells in the areas of the retina corresponding to the features of the visual scene.

The electrodes directly activate optical nerves that carry signals to the brain, bypassing the damaged layers of retina.

The research team, led by John Wyatt, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, recently reported a new prototype that they hope to start testing in blind patients within the next three years, after some safety refinements are made.

These findings are slated for publication in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

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