Monday, December 26, 2011

New Vision System May Replace Damaged Retinas


Sheila Nirenberg is a neuroscientist at Cornell University School of Medicine. Her team has developed an artificial retina which connects directly to the optical nerve. It replaces the retina in our eyes often damaged or destroyed in diseases like macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa by creating an output which is the same that our retina produces. Her team has created a way to translate the output from its optical device into input the optical nerve will be able to send to the brain. Watch this fascinating video of her brief talk of ten minutes from Ted.com. The device is a huge advance over systems which just show shadows and shapes. Development is well under way and animal experiments using the device have been successful.

I saw my dad gradually begin to lose his sight from macular degeneration. It is a common disease for the elderly. It usually begins with loss of night vision, and then moves on to loss of peripheral vision, and finally even central vision is lost. Dad had lost the ability to see small objects in his house, the kind that you normally just pick up and discard: toys from his dog, little bits of food or biscuits that his dog had misplaced. He was starting to have a hard time seeing golf balls. He still was able to drive, but the time was fast approaching when he would lose that independence which a car provided. In an interview which I saw quoted, Dr. Nirenberg said that she hoped to have the device fully developed for humans in less than ten years. There have already been successful experiments with mice. That step of translating the data code that the macula sends to the optic nerve and brain was a huge breakthrough. It enables the team to produce a signal which comes close to what the human eye produces.

If you want to find out more about this development, go to google.com. Enter this in the search box. Sheila Nirenberg macula . You will get many, many good hits. You might also substitute macular or eye for the term macular and see what the results look like. I am hopeful that this will turn into a product available to a huge number of people. You might also want to set up an iGoogle profile for yourself and have Google search for any news about Sheila Nirenberg. I have a number of sections like that for myself. I follow health care issues, japan earthquake, and all kinds of blogs related to Apple iPads and Apple Macs and all kinds of current news and science fields such as astronomy and spaceflight. iGoogle provides an easy way to look at a few pages of news output per day and get a good overview of what is happening in the world around me.

Here is the link to a wonderful brief ten minute talk that Dr. Nirenberg did for Tedtalks.com:

http://www.ted.com/talks/sheila_nirenberg_a_prosthetic_eye_to_treat_blindness.html


1 comment:

Kay Walker said...

After the cochlear implant was successfully developed here in Adelaide, South Australia, I have been wondering how and when someone would be able to translate the signals received by the eye into useful, detailed vision. The sensory translation system in the ear is relatively easy to understand and the number of nuances of sound in speech are numerous but finite. I remember learning about how the ear worked in 1st & 2nd year med & psychology, finding that I could explain it fairly well to others and think about how it might be coded electronically. However, computers and processors were huge then and the idea of an "artificial ear" being built seemed a little pie-in-the-sky. When I learned shortly afterwards how the eye worked in a basic way, how many areas of the brain were also involved and how perceptual learning influences what we think we see, I figured that an "artificial eye" would be impossible! However, recent developments in understanding of how the brain processes visual images and in the "training" of microcircuits to prime them to process signals in specific ways led me to believe that electronic supplementary vision might be possible soon. Obviously many labs have been working on it ceaselessly for ages and all the work from the neurological, psychological, computing & mathematical sides is coming together in the Nisenberg lab! I would love to see how their system works- must read their papers!