According to Dr. Curtis Cripe we may not be far away from artificial retinas. A number of groups are working together and independently in an attempt to develop bionic retinas to help people where it has become damaged. For instance, in Australia, a group of scientists is working on bionic vision, which aims to restore vision in people who have degenerative sight loss as a result of age-related macular degeneration or retinitis pigmentosa. With both these sight conditions, the part of the eye that sense light becomes damaged, but there are no issues with the visual processing or neural circuitry of the brain.
Dr. Curtis Cripe on the Bionic Eye
To date, researchers have looked at the possibility of implanting a microchip in the retina. Then, by attaching cameras to spectacles, signals can be transmitted to the chip. The chip then sends currents through the neurons, which are still functioning, which then reach the brain. At present, technology only allows for as little as 100 electrodes to be implanted. What this means is that the resolution is incredibly poor. However, if someone is virtually or fully blind, low resolution is still better than nothing. The technology is now being tested on humans. It will take some time yet before it is released to the market, presuming that the tests will be successful.
Meanwhile, a number of institutions in California have started to run clinical trials on their own retinal prosthesis. This currently has just 60 electrodes, which means that the image will be of even poorer quality. A consortium of German scientists is already looking at a different option through which more electrodes can be added. However, these electrodes can, to date, not be encapsulated. This means that they don’t last very long. However, human trials of this system have been quite successful so far.
Dr. Curtis Cripe understands that a lot of neuro-engineering research projects sound like real science fiction. In reality, however, it is science fact and not at all outside of the realms of possibilities. It wasn’t long ago, for instance, that neurons in a dish were able to control a robot, and these were cultured neurons! Similarly, scientists wired a fish to a variety of electrodes, and this enabled them to take over control of a robot. Lastly, a rat fitted with a remote control could be made to turn left or right. We have the technology to impact brain processes, in other words, and it won’t be long until that is used to cure common problems and conditions.
The field of neuro-engineering is made up of lots of different disciplines. This includes psychology, computer science, biophysics, engineering, mathematics, and neurosciences. Bringing these disciplines together has opened up a world of possibilities and it has significantly increased our understanding of various human conditions. For instance, people with Parkinson’s disease, dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and other neurologic problems have been able to get help that they never believed would have been possible.