Scientists have returned a blind teacher’s sight by using a minature high-tech brain implant.
A former Spanish science teacher- blind for 16 years- is now able to see letters, discern objects’ edges — and even play a Maggie Simpson video game — all thanks to a visual prosthesis that includes a camera and a brain implant and a collaboration between American and Spanish researchers.
Bernardeta Gómez, 57, was teaching biology at a high school in Valencia sixteen years ago, when toxic optic neuropathy destroyed the bundle of nerves that connect her eyes to her brain, leaving her blind.
Designed by scientists at the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH) in the Spanish province of Alicante, the system consists of a 96-electrode implant that is placed in the rear brain region responsible for vision. This is the first time this technology has been used on a blind person. The former teacher’s blindness returned once she was unhooked from the system, but now new volunteers are being recruited to take the experiment further.
The former teacher had the implant for six months and experienced no disruptions to her brain activity or other health complications, according to the study that was published this week in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The study is being hailed as a “long-held dream of scientists,” to impart a rudimentary form of sight to blind people by sending information directly to the brain’s visual cortex.
“These results are very exciting because they demonstrate both safety and efficacy. We have taken a significant step forward, showing the potential of these types of devices to restore functional vision for people who have lost their vision,” said one of the lead researchers, Eduardo Fernández of Miguel Hernández University, in a statement.
Bernardeta Gómez insists that she does not feel particularly nostalgic about having been able to see certain things again over the space of a few months. She explains: “I knew where I was going with this. It was very clear to me that I wasn’t going to recover my sight, but I feel great personal satisfaction and that’s my compensation.”
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