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The world’s bionic vision system is preparing for human experimentation

Author:QINSUN Released in:2024-03 Click:29

Australian scientists have spent more than 10 years developing a pioneering biomimetic vision system and are now focusing on human experimentation. The working principle of this technology is to bypass damage to the optic nerve. After successful experiments on animals, scientists hope that one day it can help people with untreatable blindness recover their vision.

Developing a safe and fully functional bionic visual system is the goal pursued by research groups around the world. Some products have progressed very smoothly and have been implanted into the patient's body, while others are designed not only to restore vision to the blind, but also to give users superhuman vision.

The Gennaris biomimetic vision system being developed by Monash University in Australia is described as the world's first device aimed at avoiding problems caused by optic nerve damage. This is a common factor in clinical blindness, where injured nerves block the transmission of key signals from the retina to the visual center of the brain under normal circumstances.

This system is established to perform the function of a healthy optic nerve. It consists of a customized helmet with a built-in camera, wireless transmitter, visual processor, and software, as well as a set of squares containing electrodes with hair thickness implanted in the brain.

The camera captures the scene and transmits it to a smartphone sized visual processor. These data are then wirelessly transmitted to blocks, each side of which is only 9 millimeters (0.35 inches) in size and has complex circuits that can convert these data into electrical pulses that stimulate the brain.

These electrical pulses stimulate the brain to create visual patterns of up to 172 combinations of light points, theoretically allowing users to navigate indoor and outdoor environments and remain alert to nearby people and objects. According to Professor Arthur Lowery, Director of the Vision Group at Monash University, its arrangement can provide a wider range of brain coverage, which is the key to the enormous potential of the device and also sets it apart from other biomimetic vision systems under development.

"We can splice multiple implanted 'tiles' to cover the brain area, as each tile has an electrode array with an area almost as large as the tile itself," Lowery explained to New Atlas. "This is because the wireless receiver coil is contained within each implant, rather than surrounding it or connected through cables."

In July, the team announced the promising results of a study in which their biomimetic visual system was implanted into three sheep. This involves 10 electrode arrays that remain in place and provide thousands of hours of stimulation to the animal's brain for up to 9 months. This is one of the world's first long-term tests on a fully implantable cortical visual prosthesis. According to the research team, the device has good tolerance to brain tissue and has no adverse effects on health.

"The research results indicate that long-term stimulation can be achieved through wireless arrays without inducing extensive tissue damage, and without causing significant behavioral problems or epilepsy due to stimulation," said Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, the lead author of the study.

The team now hopes to conduct the first human clinical trial based on these promising preclinical results, and has obtained necessary approvals. Lowery stated that these long-term studies will start with a few subjects and "lead to dozens of subjects.".

Monash Vision Group has previously received funding from the Australian government's Medical Research Future Fund and hopes to receive more funding when the second phase of funding is announced later this year. This funding, along with other cash sources, can not only help pay for clinical trial costs, but also assist in the local manufacturing of biomimetic visual systems.

Ultimately, the team hopes that their work will be reflected in commercial enterprises, producing medical equipment to help patients with untreatable blindness recover their vision. It said its potential may not end there, and the team is also keen to explore how the system can potentially treat spinal cord injury, epilepsy, depression, and other diseases. However, they are very clear that even if the experiment proves successful, the road ahead is still long.

"Like any medical thing, regulatory approval takes several years," Lowery said.

The team's research on sheep was published in the Journal of Neuroengineering in July.