Italian researchers believe their visual prosthetic can reverse blindness.
With millions of people across the globe suffering with some type of retinal degeneration, widespread poor vision and blindness affects almost every one of us in a way or another. However, researchers at the University of Pisa, Italy, believe that they have found a method to help adults retrain their brains to see again.
Their groundbreaking research was recently published in the journal PLOS One, and suggests that new visual prostheses can help restore visual signals to brains.
The Argus II retinal prosthesis system was implanted in seven patients with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal degenerative condition that leads to blindness, b researchers Elisa Castaldi and Maria Concetta Morrone. The system works by sending small light pulses to the remaining retinal cells, bypassing damaged photoreceptors, while stimulating some remaining cells. The cell would then forward visual information to the optic nerve of the brain, giving back the brain’s ability to perceive light. Gradually, the light patterns will become clear colored vision. All patients had been blind for around 20 years.
The patients were then tested for their ability to detect big and high contrast shapes flashed briefly. In an interview with Mental Floss, Elisa Castaldi, lead study author, and a post-doc in the Department of Translational Research on New Technologies in Medicine and Surgery at the University of Pisa, said that “the subjects were asked to specify in which of two intervals—marked by two noises—there was a stationary, large, high-contrast visual stimulus.”
According to Castaldi, the prosthetic implant gave the patients the ability to detect the light accurately 90% of the time, a drastic improvement from their vision prior to the surgery.
These result were however not immediate. It took the patents a lot of time training and undergoing months of vision therapy. But nonetheless, this is one of the biggest breakthroughs one the path to eliminate blindness.