24 April 2006

Exciting Development in Artificial Vision

To me, loss of sight is one of the two worst things that can happen to a person (the other is quadriplegia). The reduction in quality of life is insurmountable for all but the most extraordinary individuals. Few of us can be Ray Charles or Steven Hawking.

A company called Intelligent Medical Implants is testing a device which bypasses the retina and sends information directly to the brain. Initial results are hopeful, as in this case:

"One patient, for example, a 65-year-old female from Marienberg, Germany, has not had sight for more than a half century. From early childhood she has suffered from RP, meaning that she has not seen normally for more than 60 years. Nevertheless, in her first pattern recognition test, she described continuous objects such as a half circle. There is no doubt that this result is extremely positive, given that she has had no sight for almost her entire life, yet was still able to immediately receive a visual perception from electrical stimulation."

It's not sight, but it's a start.

Artificial vision combines engineering and surgical technology. It's an important area of research, but it's analogous to prosthetic research in that it doesn't fix the damage per se, but it allows artificial devices to compensate for loss of function.

The other side of the coin is research in neural regeneration, which is focused on how to actually fix the damaged nerve cells. Generally this is focused towards spinal cord injuries (Christopher Reeve, e.g.) and degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson's.


Mark said...

Have you ever heard about brain transplants?


Even though they've been possibly for 30 years or so, reattaching the nerves to the spinal cord has made them a waste of time and monkeys.

If neural regeneration becomes reality, we could shop for new bodies.

TravisG said...

"A waste of time and monkeys"

Oh, that's beautiful, Mark.

Some old co-workers and I were talking once about whether we'd rather lose our hearing or our vision, if we had to choose one. Most of them chose vision, because we worked at a record store and no one wanted to live without music. Now, as much as I love music (which is quite a lot), I could live on bass vibrations, if I had to. I couldn't live without reading. I would go completely cah-razay.