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Spanish scientists seek blind volunteers for pioneering research that stimulates vision

Researchers at the Miguel Hernández University (UHM) in Alicante, eastern Spain, are recruiting blind volunteers to participate in new experiments based on a pioneering technology to stimulate vision.

The new implant they have created, based on microelectrodos intracorticales, is capable of inducing the perception of shapes and letters in a blind person. They have already tried it successfully in a first patient, a 57-year-old woman, blind for 16 years, who has been able to perceive letters and identify the silhouette of some objects and even some colors.

The study has shown that implantation in the brain of this microdevice can be carried out safely and that, through the direct stimulation of the cerebral cortex, produces visual perceptions with a much higher resolution than has been achieved to date with other devices.

The results of this first experiment, carried out by the Biomedical Neuroengineering group of the UMH, led by the professor of Cell Biology Eduardo Fernández Jover, have been published in the journal Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The investigation began in December 2020, when they successfully conducted a similar experiment in primates. However, “this work goes a little further”, Explain Fernández Jover: “We have implemented [los microelectrodos] in the brain of a completely blind person for more than 16 years “, being the first time that a brain implant of this type has been performed in a blind person.

The results, according to the expert, are very encouraging for the development of a neuroprótesis visual that can help blind people or people with low residual vision to improve their mobility and, even, in a more ambitious way, to perceive the environment that surrounds them and orient themselves in it.

The implanted device, of only 4 millimeters on the side, it is a small three-dimensional array of 100 microelectrodes to communicate with brain cells in a bidirectional way.

Furthermore, “the amount of electrical current necessary to induce visual perceptions with this type of microelectrodes is much less than that required with electrodes located on the surface of the brain, which translates into a greater security“, adds the UMH scientist.

The device is completed with glasses that incorporate a artificial retina that mimics the functioning of the human vision system. This retina captures the visual field in front of the person who wears them and transforms it into electrical impulses optimized to stimulate the neurons of the visual cortex.

It ‘learns’ to see again

It has also been found that there is a process of learning over time, so with proper training it is becoming easier to recognize different patterns. To facilitate this process, the team of researchers created several video games, such as a variation of the classic Pac-Man or a game based on The Simpsons.

The study also concludes the need to refine this technique to care for people whose blindness cannot benefit from other technologies, as well as that the human brain is still capable of processing visual information even after many years of blindness.

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