The system includes a special pair of glasses that communicates wirelessly with neuro-prosthetic devices implanted in the brain.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in people 50 and older. It results in deterioration of the middle of the retina, leading to distorted and blurred vision. There currently is no cure. Researchers at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University are developing a system that utilizes neurotechnology to help restore vision to people with AMD.
The OBServ system is being developed as part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative, which was formed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to accelerate the development and application of innovative technologies designed to produce a revolutionary new dynamic picture of the brain, with the goal of showing how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space.
The system comprises a special pair of glass that simultaneously tracks eye movements and captures the corresponding visual scene. This information is encrypted and wirelessly streamed to two surgically implanted neuro-prosthetic devices at the rear of the brain, providing the visual cortex with the information it needs for sight and which the retinas in AMD patients can no longer provide.
The key advance is the development of technology for translating the information from the glasses into signals that can be interpreted by the brain. The researchers are using gene therapy to grow photoreceptors on neurons in the brain that are connected to the visual pathway. Stimulation of the neurons with light from the implants allows construction of a low-resolution image.
The system is still in the early stages of development, and clinical trials are still several years away. But the results thus far have been encouraging, despite the fact that OBServ only provides a window of vision smaller than the size of an adult thumbnail.