Innovative Brain Implant Enabled a Blind Women for 16 Years See Again
A woman who had been blind for 16 years has regained her sight thanks to an innovative brain implant procedure. The US doctors who performed the surgery have recently published the results of their experiment.
Berna Gomez, a woman who has been blind for 16 years, can now see shapes and letters after doctors implanted an electrode into her brain. The woman suffered from toxic optic neuropathy and had a complete vision loss. But now thanks to an innovative surgery she can finally perceive shapes and letters.
The success of the procedure has opened a world of possibilities for blind people hoping to again witness the wonders this world has to offer. Gomez said that she suffered from toxic optic neuropathy, a condition that eats away the optic nerve. According to Gomez, she completely lost her ability to see things. The deterioration happened within days and her life plunged into darkness.
But in late 2018 she underwent a brain implant procedure – a tiny electrode hardwired into her brain. The tiny prosthesis developed by Richard Normann from the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah was inserted into Gomez’s visual cortex, to stimulate the nerves there.
This tiny electrode is different from the retinal implant. Instead of stimulating nerves located in the retina, the latest procedure aims to manipulate the source of visual perception.
According to the team of researchers led by Normann and collaborator Eduardo Fernández from Spain’s Miguel Hernández University, “A long-held dream of scientists is to transfer information directly to the visual cortex of blind individuals, thereby restoring a rudimentary form of sight. However, no clinically available cortical visual prosthesis yet exists.”
But the brain implant was not the complete solution for Gomez. She has to go for training and test for another six months. The first few months of her training involved learning to differentiate between, tiny flashes of light she occasionally sees in her mind and the light-induced directly by stimulating the prosthetic implant in her brain.
By stimulating different electrodes, scientists trained Gomez to perceive different visual signals and soon she was able to discern vertical and horizontal patterns with hundred percent accuracy.
Amazed by the positive results, scientists soon began training Gomez to discern alphabets. I, L, C, V, and O were easy to come by, and soon she could even distinguish between an upper and lowercase O. Finally at the end of her training, she was given glasses to wear fitted with a small video camera. The camera records the surroundings and then stimulates different combinations of electrodes of the prosthesis to construct simple visuals.
The case of Gomez is quite encouraging yet the experiment is in its initial stage. The prosthesis needs more subjects to further refine and enhance its working. However, it has opened doors for a wide range of applications. Similar to visual areas of the brain, other parts that control limbs and hands can also be fitted with electrodes to control artificial implants. Needless to say that technology is still in the nascent stage but over time with more research and advancement it could present as a viable cure for many brain-related impairments.