New Retinal Implants May Give Artificial Vision to the Blind

The novel invention works by stimulating the retina with dots of light.
Loukia Papadopoulos

A new form of retinal implant may finally give vision to the blind. The research is being led by Diego Ghezzi, who holds the Medtronic Chair in Neuroengineering (LNE) at EPFL's School of Engineering.

The novel retinal implant works with camera-equipped smart glasses and a microcomputer and uses electrodes to stimulate retinal cells. The way it works is actually quite ingenious.

The camera in the smart glasses takes images and sends the data to a microcomputer located in one of the eyeglasses' end-pieces. This microcomputer then transforms that data into light signals.

Electrodes in the retinal implant then use these light signals to stimulate the retina. The person then sees a black-and-white version of the image made up of dots of light.

"It's like when you look at stars in the night sky — you can learn to recognize specific constellations. Blind patients would see something similar with our system," Ghezzi told SciTechDaily.

The research began all the way back in 2015 and has yet to be tested on humans because obtaining medical approval takes a long time. The researchers have, however, engineered a virtual reality program that simulates what patients would see with the implants.

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The new implants contain an impressive 10,500 electrodes. “We weren’t sure if this would be too many electrodes or not enough. We had to find just the right number so that the reproduced image doesn’t become too hard to make out. The dots have to be far enough apart that patients can distinguish two of them close to each other, but there has to be enough of them to provide sufficient image resolution,” explained to SciTechDaily Ghezzi.

So far, the virtual reality testing program has indicated that this number of electrodes is ideal for generating perceptible images. Now, that's exciting news!

The study is published in the journal Communication Materials.

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