A blind woman received a brain implant enabling vision

One of the senses of the human body that most of us take for granted is vision. Researchers have been working for years to find methods to improve and enable vision in those with blindness or some type of impairment. New research has been published by scientists from the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah and Miguel Hernandez University in Spain. The research outlines an experiment that successfully created a type of artificial vision for a woman that relies on a brain implant.The implant is known as the Moran|Cortivis Prosthesis and allowed a 60-year-old woman, Verna Gomez, to regain enough vision to see simple shapes. During their experiment, the researchers worked with Gomez for six months, and they say the prosthesis they produced could increase independence for blind people around the world. Implanting the Utah Electrode Array (UEA) was difficult and required neurosurgery to implant a microelectrode array into her visual cortex.

That array can record and stimulate the electrical activities of neurons within the brain. Aside from the brain implant, another portion of the system is special eyeglasses equipped with miniature video cameras that work with specialized software. The software encodes the visual data the camera collected and sends it to the UEA implanted in the brain.

The UEA can stimulate neurons to produce phosphenes that Gomez could perceive as white points of light, which create an image. Gomez had been blind for 16 years at the time of the experiments, and researchers say there were no complications from her surgery. Researchers also say the implant did not impair any neurons in proximity to the electrodes, nor did it impact the underlying cortex.

Gomez could identify lines, shapes, and simple letters with the implant active and receiving data from the glasses. Gomez and the researchers utilized a videogame to help her practice using the prosthesis. Results of the study have shown the safety and efficacy of the system and marks a significant step towards restoring lost vision.