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Biotech Medicine Technology

Chip Allows Blind People To See 231

Posted by samzenpus
from the bionic-eye dept.
crabel writes "3 blind people have been implanted with a retinal chip that allowed them to see shapes and objects within days of the procedure. From the article: 'One of the patients surprised researchers by identifying and locating objects on a table; he was also able to walk around a room unaided, approach specific people, tell the time from a clock face, and describe seven different shades of gray in front of him.'"
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Chip Allows Blind People To See

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  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by DirtyCanuck (1529753) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:10AM (#34122100)

    I didn't see that one coming.

    Hearing Implants?

    Nope never heard of them

  • by thijsh (910751) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:20AM (#34122130) Journal
    La Forge is king!
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:49AM (#34123174) Homepage Journal

      Once again reality has trumped Star Trek with an eye implant -- there's now no reason for La Forge to wear that visor.

      Reality trumped Star Trek with an eye implant before. McCoy gave Kirk reading glasses for his age-related presbyopia because he was allergic to the eye drops that soften the lens (they don't have those... yet). But they've been implanting mechanical lenses since 2003; I have one in my left eye. McCoy could have just beamed Kirk's biological lenses out and beamed the mechanical lenses in. I went from being extremely nearsighted and farsighted at the same time (age related presbyopia), wearing both contacts and reading glasses, to better than 20/20. Of course, since we don't have transporters, invasive surgery is required. This retinal implant would require even more invasive surgery.

      Of all the nerdy devices I have and have had, the implanted lens is my favorite.

      Give them time and this retinal implant may surpass normal vision like the lens implant does.

      Oh yeah -- you will be assimilated! Resistance is futile!

      • LaForge does have ocular nerve implants. The visor is a replacement for his eyes. (Further, he grew out of it in the later movies.)
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Except La Forge can see in color...and all through out the spectrum.

        It's pretty well established that the teleporter isn't used for medical uses... usually.
        Now I have no idea WHY they don't. From it's description, using the teleporter should allow them to fix anything in the body, including aging.

        OTOH, it was a series of moral plays, not a predictor of the future.

        • by Amouth (879122)

          or the use of the holodeck/hologram like they used once in voyager.

          i still love in Stargate Atlantis - once given transporters - they did the obvious.. beam a nuke over to the enemy ship.. star-trek would never have done that.

      • I work with someone who can't accept anesthesia of any kind found so far. Either her BP drops, or she starts throwing up while unconcious, or her heart almost stops, or she develops a terrible rash from the numbing items.

        I assume (outside of movie reality) that for some reason, none of these techniques would work for Kirk or he was unwilling to undergo them. So... glasses.

        I had lasik in 1997? 1998? It has been FRAKKIN AWESOME!!!!! Never regretted it for a second.
        I can SEE at the beach. When I stop a d

  • by Manip (656104) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:33AM (#34122180)
    Just to clarify in case you didn't RTFA this isn't a cure for all forms of blindness. Unfortunately we still aren't at the point of being able to clip a camera on to people and having their brains understand that input directly. But it does somewhat mitigate forms of blindness which are directly associated with the eye (as opposed to the image processing centre which is a common form of blindness). But that being said, this is HUGE. We can cure several kinds of blindness or at least mitigate it. The quality of life increase to the people who receive this new medical technology will simply be like night and day.
    • by janek78 (861508) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @07:36AM (#34122744) Homepage

      Could you supply a source on the "[...]image processing centre which is a common form of blindness"? As far as I know, and yes IAAMD, eye-related conditions are by far the most common cause of blindness, whereas cortical blindness represents only a small fraction of the total blind population (significant, no doubt).

      • by jamesh (87723)

        Yes I think the OP is lumping congenital blindness with acquired blindness, where I assume the latter is much more closely related to injuries or diseases to the eye.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          I would imagine that there are more cases of blindness resulting from brain trauma (auto accident, etc) than congenital. Congenital blindness from birth is rare, blindness from injury to the eye or brain is not.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      We can cure several kinds of blindness or at least mitigate it.

      There's an implantible mechanical lens that cures nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and cataracts. Almost everyone who gets them gets near normal, normal, or better than normal vision.

      But if there's nerve damage, or damage to the visual cortex in the brain, that's still incurable.

      I wonder if this implant would help someone who had a detached retina and didn't get a vitrectomy soon enough? I had to undergo a vitrectomy, and it was a w

      • I wonder if they will be trying this out on people with Macular Degeneration [wikipedia.org]; since this is a major cause of vision loss in aging people. And there is a huge demographic who are about to enter the age group that this mostly affects (i.e. the boomers are getting old). It would help in their (and possibly all of our) care if they could all see properly.
    • I have a concern. The articles states zero effect on those people where the disease had progressed too far before the implant. I see nothing about this implant that will prevent further progression...
      So whose to say after getting the invasive (and expensive surgery) - it won't just stop working in a few years when the disease gets bad enough anyway ?

  • by kurokame (1764228) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:33AM (#34122182)

    Firstly, it's probably going to be 50 years before this turns into an actual medical procedure rather than a proof-of-concept experiment. Let's just get that out of the way.

    So what they're doing is taking people with a defective retina, and adding a synthetic one. The retina normally receives photons and sends a signal along the optic nerve. What they're doing is implanting a silicon photoreceptor behind the retina of people whose retinas aren't doing the job. The chip receives the photons and sends an electrical signal, serving the same function as a "healthy" retina to some fidelity. The results are sort of low-fi since (a) it's just a proof of concept trial, and (b) the retina is a horrendously complex photodetector so it will take a lot of work to approach that in an implantable device. But dude, blind people. Seeing. Go, science!

    • by Peeteriz (821290)

      We don't even need to match the quality of retina - even a hugely restricted sight, say a 50x50 black/white pixel sensor would be a life-changing experience to blind people, if that was available for mass-production and they could actually afford it.

      • by fredjh (1602699) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @07:56AM (#34122820)

        I recall seeing something like that (low-res BW "implants") at least 5 or more years ago. Someone was actually able to drive a car around a parking lot with one.

        This just seems like a more advanced version, and unlike another poster, I think they should start implanting these now. Why make people wait for more trials? What's the worst that can happen? The person is already blind. This is one of the things that bothers me about the FDA; if people are willing to take the risks to get a "cure" now, they shouldn't be stopped.

        But even still, once surgery to correct lens shape was allowed, that procedure really took off... it didn't take 50 years for it to become commonplace. Certainly this is more invasive, but once it's approved, I really doubt people will let that stand in the way... after all, people who were nearsighted could still see with corrective lenses, but now we're talking about people who can't see at all.

        • by am 2k (217885) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:08AM (#34122890) Homepage

          I think they should start implanting these now. Why make people wait for more trials? What's the worst that can happen? The person is already blind.

          Well, I'm a complete noob when it comes to medical stuff, but I can think of three things:

          • Permanent damage to the nerves, removing the option for using any future improved version of this implant.
          • Brain damage, since this implant has a direct connection to the most sophisticated instrument known to man. Just send a few milliamps too much over there and it's partially fried.
          • An infection, killing the person (since you can't just cut off the head like it's done with arms and legs in extreme situations).
      • by plastbox (1577037)
        I would have you check out Sensory Substitution. I feel I'm ranting on about this every time something like this comes up and no one cares. Why is that? The TVSS (Tactile Visual Substitution System by WiCab) provides its users with a 20x20 grayscale image and the Forehead Retina System provides 512 taxel (tactile pixel) vision, all with no surgery. In addition, the BrainPort (also by WiCab) can be hooked up to an accelerometer to provide a sense of balance to people who's inner ears have been damaged. Hell,
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by maxume (22995)

      You are extrapolating linearly.

      For reference, 50 years ago integrated circuits were still brand new.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      It won't take near that long. I expect it to be pretty common in the next five years, and as sensor resolutions go up the people getting the surgery will have better and better vision. In fifty years people who get this implant will probably have better than normal vision. Hell, by then they'll probably be able to see in the dark.

      It is low resolution now, but low resolution is a lot better than blindness.

      Unless you're as old as me, you can't imagine the progress science and technology makes. When I was a ki

      • by ultranova (717540)

        In fifty years people who get this implant will probably have better than normal vision.

        At which point it's your brain's ability to process the incoming information that's the limiting factor. I wonder if covering the inside of your skull with electronics and interfacing auxiliary processors into brains might be the next big thing?

    • by Amouth (879122)

      50 years before we can just go get one? yea ..

      proof of concept? no .. the proof was done several years ago with 1 person and if i remember right the resolution was either 9x9 or 10x10.. this is 1500 dots so at least 15x the resolution.

      this is the next step - and i'm sure there will be plenty more.. you just have to take them one at a time.

      to many people want to leap into the future and have what we can image now - but you can only do it with baby steps along the way.

  • First Wu-Tang (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage.praecantator@com> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:36AM (#34122190) Homepage

    Light is provided through sparks of energy
    from the mind that travels in rhyme form

    Givin sight to the blind

  • What is it, exactly? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nirvelli (851945) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:47AM (#34122232)
    The Abstract has more technical details [royalsocie...ishing.org], such as the fact that this chip is externally-powered, and has a "38 × 40 pixels" resolution.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by j00r0m4nc3r (959816)
      That's about what my old Apple 2 computer would do. You could play Zork on your own retina..
    • The last time there has been an article on the subject, we were at 9x9 pixels. I can infer that some parallel can be made with the general speed of progress in electronics and expect that within a quick decade it will be hi-res and not require too much power to be implanted with day-long batteries.

      Also, inductive charging is quite an elegant solution in this context: no gore, all the joules.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ultranova (717540)

        I can infer that some parallel can be made with the general speed of progress in electronics and expect that within a quick decade it will be hi-res and not require too much power to be implanted with day-long batteries.

        Why not simply use a small fuel cell and generate power from glucose and oxygen from bloodstream?

    • For comparison, the original Game Boy [wikipedia.org] had a screen resolution of 160x144 in four greenish shades. Still, even 38x40 is an improvement over past retina chips and starts to be useful. I wonder what aspect ratio these things will end up with.
  • said the blind man to his deaf wife.

  • 1500 diodes, making a rate of 0.67 words per photo diode. Stunning, simply stunning. Also, marvelous.
    • by Cwix (1671282)

      1500 diodes /1000 words = 1.5 diodes per word doesnt it?

      Lets double check.. If we have 1000 words and we give each word 1.5 diodes, we would have a total of 1500 diodes.

  • by splutty (43475) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @05:58AM (#34122278)

    One caveat that seems to be missing in the summary, is that this was done with people that used to have normal eyesight, which degenerated into blindness.

    Obviously the fact that the brain already recognizes shaped, forms, and knows how to 'see' makes a huge difference.

    For people having been born blind, this sort of research might eventually help, but this would take all the visual stimulation and training that a small child gets as well, with brains that are not that of a small child, so will take a long time to adapt, unfortunately.

    • Who knows, the child's brain may adapt better to the low resolution images. The child's brain may develop some sort of anti-aliasing capabilities.
      • Who knows, the child's brain may adapt better to the low resolution images. The child's brain may develop some sort of anti-aliasing capabilities.

        It does more than that. Take yourself for example. You do know that there is a rather significant blind spot right in the middle of your vision right?

    • by SharpFang (651121)

      One interesting caveat: eye projects the image on the retina upside-down and it's sent as such to the brain. The flipping is done fully "in software" and supposedly occurs only a few weeks after the child gains sight. It would be interesting to observe this effect in adult humans.

      • by am 2k (217885) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:11AM (#34122910) Homepage

        I remember seeing a documentary of a study that did exactly that about twenty years ago... That person wore glasses 24/7 that flipped the image upside down. It took a while, but he adapted to it just fine. The problem was that when he took them off afterwards, the image was flipped again, so he had to go through all of it again :)

        • by delinear (991444) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:07AM (#34123270)
          Earlier than that - George Stratton [wikipedia.org] was doing this one-hundred and twenty years ago. His experiment involved covering one eye and inverting the image in the other (the apparatus he used at the time was too heavy to do both eyes 24 hours a day). He found after 4-5 days everything looked the right way around, but if he concentrated on objects they would reverse. Other than that he could move around and operate as normal. Upon removing the device it was only a few hours until his sight returned to normal.
          • by am 2k (217885)

            To clarify, I saw that documentary twenty years ago. It was black&white without sound, so I guess it was the same study you dug out. Nice find!

      • by matfud (464184)

        The experiment has been done with glasses that flip the scene before it enters the eye. After a few hours most adults don't notice much difference.

    • by am 2k (217885)

      You have to start somewhere though.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      For people having been born blind, this sort of research might eventually help, but this would take all the visual stimulation and training that a small child gets as well, with brains that are not that of a small child, so will take a long time to adapt, unfortunately.

      Right. Kids who receive cochlear implants at very young ages (best before 5, preferably around 1) and are enrolled in schools mostly focused on speech and hearing (rather than sign) tend to show dramatic results. Most of these kids are mainstreamed into their local school districts in the kindergarten/first/second grades with limited (if any) instructional support. Using the phone with no assistance is pretty typical.

      People, like my wife, who are pre-lingually deaf and receive cochlear implants later in lif

      • by splutty (43475)

        Exactly.

        A lot of research has been done into sight/hearing/language, and the ideal age to do this is before 8 years old.

        At that time the actual structure of your ear (drums, hammer, etc) will have evolved in such a way as to maximize what sounds you need to hear. (The 'joke' of chinese people not being able to pronounce an 'R' is actually not a joke, but the very simple result of there not existing an 'R' sound in the chinese language, so they simply can't hear it, because their hearing has never been attun

  • by SultanCemil (722533) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:01AM (#34122294)
    So is it wrong to goatse someone within a day of the operation?
  • This, as my post title suggests, is not a revolution. It's an evolution of the existing tech. We've seen this before, but the achievable resolution is increasing. There's another project in Germany I read about recently where they're working on colour
    Don't get me wrong, this is amazing work, and another step on the road to full Geordi's VISOR-like treatment for people that have an optic nerve but non-functioning eyes, but it's not a "new" thing, merely another refinement in the process

    When the resolution

    • by SharpFang (651121)

      Actually, I'd be quite interested in one that is not based on daylight. Think of it as input device, taking, say, HDMI signal on input, and outputting the video directly to optical nerves. Attach an external camera, or a computer, or a remote camera, or a video player... skipping the middle-man of display-light-eye-retina and feeding video data straight to the optical nerve.

      • No way, I still need my analog hole!

        Just what we need. HDCP in my eyeballs.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      The retinal implant won't help if you're nearsighted or farsighted, or have astigmatism, but you can get a lens implant [slashdot.org] that cures all three of those. It costs about $6-7,000 per eye.

      But it is invasive surgery. They stick a needle in your eye, send ultrasound down it to turn your eye's lens to mush, suck it out, and put the mechanical lens in through the needle.

      It doesn't hurt, but it does kind of freak you out when they stick the needle in your eye (they don't knock you out for the operation).

  • It's a miracle! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HertzaHaeon (1164143) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:12AM (#34122370) Homepage

    Stories like these always make me think of how science, technology and development delivers so many of the things promised but undelivered by religion. This story, healing the sick and making the blind see again, is an actual, real miracle, and an awesome one at that. Religion, in contrast, offers only false hope and perhaps some comfort for unfulfilled promises and a harsh reality. And yet so many millions pin their hopes on imagined gods, not human spirit and ingenuity. It continues to baffle me.

    Even the most extreme things promised by religion, eternal life and/or an immortal soul, might be deliverable in some form by science one day. We can certainly create a paradise for ourselves. Compared to how the people who first imagined today's religions lived, one could argue that many of us are already living in paradise (or some beta version of it at least) and it's within reach for every human on earth, regardless of religion, if we continue to produce our own miracles.

    • by Toze (1668155)

      Sorry to use a 4chanism here, but;

      Implying the religious wouldn't consider this a miracle.
      Implying the religious think human ingenuity and its results aren't miraculous.
      Implying the religious subscribe to the same mutual exclusivity between faith and science that you do.

      There are some religious people who see miracles in toast and wonder how magnets work, sure. There's some religious people who perform neurosurgery, too, and subscribe to a scientific view of the world. Evidently being religious doesn't actually require the surrender of all mental faculties. I know Christian doctors who describe successful childbirth as simultaneously miraculous and the result of good science. The same doctors contribute money to soup kitchens or the educat

      • The miracles of a religious neurosurgeon are still the result of human ingenuity and spirit. Her religious explanations of why adds nothing to the miracle of saving someone's life through brain surgery.

        But you have a point in that religious people still can contribute to non-religous and real miracles. I didn't mean to imply that they don't. Of course many do, but still I don't see what positive contributions come from religion, besides personal motivation. Religion seems to cause much more problems in this

        • by Toze (1668155)

          Your tempered response is gratifying.

          I agree that her religious explanations of why don't affect the how. In fact, that was my point; it seems to me much more a question of philosophy. There have been raging asshat stoics and subtle, brilliant stoics. Why blame stoicism for either?

          I think you've hit the nail on the head when you say that you don't see what positive contributions come from religion. Many of the modern church's positive social effects are not headline news, while of course every alarming thin

    • by grumpyman (849537)
      I know the parent is trying to contrast religion and science but you folks truly believe this "...eternal life and/or an immortal soul, might be deliverable in some form by science one day"? And this: "one could argue that many of us are already living in paradise and it's within reach for every human on earth" - are you kidding me? I'm not sure about you but my idea of paradise doesn't require robo-eye, iPad, new drugs or internet. With these war, hunger, climate, economic issues, we're living in paradi
      • by Khazunga (176423)
        It's all a matter of perspective. You don't have to be the richest of the rich to access telecommunications, and this would be considered part of any paradise ancient people would design. The same can be said for self-powered movement (engines of any kind), computing, or fast long distance transportation. Are we in a paradise yet? Not by a long shot. Are we -- the average human on earth -- better than a thousand years ago? Of course!
  • I'd still want Geordi's visor!
  • Mice (Score:5, Funny)

    by dintech (998802) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:26AM (#34122436)

    I assume pre-tests were done on 3 blind mice? /ducks...

  • Wild. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spit (23158) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:27AM (#34122442)

    Not much of a step from here to arbitrary, computer generated input.

  • by dltaylor (7510) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:35AM (#34122486)
  • Impressive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @06:50AM (#34122546)
    In all honesty, This amazes me, the fact that we have reached a point where we understand enough about both the brain, and computer hardware, that we are able to use hardware to correct problems of this detail and magnitude. Going from totally blind to being able to read a clock has to be an amazing experience.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Going from coke bottle glasses to reading a clock on the wall without them is indeed an amazing experience. I marvel today, four years after the surgery.

  • Maybe i should get one of those
  • Ears? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by paimin (656338)
    Cool! Now can I get some new ears?
  • Sounds like a lot more than just "shapes and objects" suggests.
    • by delinear (991444)
      I saw some footage on the news and it certainly seemed like the guy could distinguish objects to a reasonable level - he was able to point out which was the fork when various similar sized items of cutlery and other objects were laid out in front of him, and to not only read his name (okay, it was in pretty big letters, but even so pretty cool) but also spot that they had spelled it wrong (ironically they'd missed out an "i"). Early days, clearly, but even being able to perceive this level of detail after b
  • Now, how long do you think that it'll be until someone at the various copyright lobbies wants to force a macrovision-like drm technology in there just because someone might someday include video recording capability into artificial eyes?
  • How long can you go without subconsciously rubbing your eyes?
    • by Khazunga (176423)
      You can go as long as needed. I did LASIK a few years back, and with corneal surgery you can't rub your eyes for what amounts to eternity (I guess it was a couple of months). Anyhow, past the initial couple of weeks, when you must keep that standing order forever present in your brain, it falls out of habit and you never ever do it (except when asleep, a situation that requires special protection).
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Pretty long; I've had two eye surgeries, and was strictly informed that rubbing the eyes before they healed was very dangerous.

      I'm pretty sure that this surgery would include a vitrectomy, which is what they do for a detached retina (my second eye surgery).

  • Yeah, yeah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smchris (464899) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:06AM (#34122882)

    It seems like one researcher or another has been twiddling with technologies like this now and then as one-off's for literally DECADES now. Will it ever make it into an on-going clinic?

    I got an "insightful" for my jaded disillusionment the last time /. reported on one of these experiments, what, maybe five years ago. Can I get another "insightful" for still being disillusioned that these "cool hacks" will ever see production?
     

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Toze (1668155)
      iirc, the experiment 5 years ago had a 2X2 pixel resolution that allowed the patient to distinguish between light and dark. This is a considerable improvement. So yes, it will make it into clinical practice. Eventually.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      look around. Most of your life is filled with the end results one-offs. Former prototypes on Proof of concepts.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      They got it to the point where these folks are no longer blind, so I would expect it to happen in five years or less.

      Note, however, that this isn't a panacea that will cure all blindness, just one form of blindness that only hits 200,000 out of the world's seven billion people.

      What's really amazing is a CrystaLens implant. It's an artificial, mechanical lens that replaces the eye's natural lens, and it cures myopia (nearsightedness), presbyopia (farsightedness), astigmatism, and cataracts. Millions could be

  • by homesnatch (1089609) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @08:54AM (#34123198)
    Way to go, Chip! I always liked that guy...
  • The wiring for sight is developed during the third and fourth month of life. If the visual system is not stimulated during this time, the ability to form the connections for sight are lost forever.

    So unless you catch it at birth then it would be too late for people born blind. If it was caught at birth babies minds are able to adapt the way they process new stimulus much more efficiently than do adults.

    Though this is a great breakthrough for people who loose their sight later in life do to some kind of phy

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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