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New Study Finds Brain Can Integrate Natural and Artificial Vision for Novel Blindness Treatment

The research could lead to a treatment for one of the world's most common form of blindness.

Macular degeneration (AMD) is one of  the most common causes of vision loss in the Western world. It affects most notably those aged 50 and over and there is no cure for it.

Artificial retina implants

However, recent advancements in artificial retina implants have the potential to lead to effective treatment. Now, new research is bringing even more hope to those suffering from AMD.

RELATED: SCIENTISTS RESTORE VISION IN BLIND MICE USING RETINAL STEM CELL TECHNIQUE

Researchers from Stanford University and Bar-Ilan University have found that the brains of people who get artificial retina implants may be capable of integrating both information from the implant and other parts of the retina. The find may lead to improved treatments for AMD.

“We wanted to see how the brain is able to combine the two kinds of information, because it can provide us insight which is important for improving the restoration of sight in blind patients,” told The Times of Israel Prof. Yossi Mandel, head of Bar-Ilan University’s Ophthalmic Science and Engineering Lab and the study’s lead author. 

A human-machine interaction

Mandel explained that he saw this study as a human-machine interaction, one where the machine was the artificial retina.

“The visual cortex in our brain processes the information from the retina, and we wanted to find out if the brain was able to process and analyze and integrate the information coming both from the prosthetic retina and natural retina,” he said. “This will enable the implanted person to see, even if part of the information was coming from an artificial chip.”

The study saw rodents implanted with the same artificial retinas as humans are. The researchers then analyzed the brain activity of these rodents.

“What we found is that the basic processing (abilities) of the visual cortex are preserved, and it is able to combine the artificial and natural signals, just as it does when both signals come naturally, when people have natural eyesight,” concluded Mandel.

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