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Biotech Science

Ophthalmologists, Physicists Design Bionic Eye 344

InfallibleLies writes "For the first time ever, those who have been blind since birth will have a chance to see the world. It's still in the early stages, but this is a giant leap forward in medical science." From the linked BBC article: "U.S scientists have designed a bionic eye to allow blind people to see again. It comprises a computer chip that sits in the back of the individual's eye, linked up to a mini video camera built into glasses that they wear. Images captured by the camera are beamed to the chip, which translates them into impulses that the brain can interpret."
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Ophthalmologists, Physicists Design Bionic Eye

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  • by bird603568 ( 808629 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:11PM (#12149820)
    Would it be possible to make it "see" infared. Then it would translated it to false color? It would be like the first upgrade in Rouge angent.
  • From birth? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by puppyfox ( 833883 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:12PM (#12149834)
    I'm not so sure that people bling from birth will benefit from any such device. That part of their brain is not even developed, you can't just "plug in" some video feed and expect them to see, do you?
    • Re:From birth? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:16PM (#12149856) Homepage
      Why not? Does being blind from birth imply a brain problem, or just a problem with the data collection device?

      Or is it that not seeing the inside of the womb for 9 months damages your ability to process visual images for the rest of your life? Seems like a pretty big stretch to me.
      • Re:From birth? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by puppyfox ( 833883 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:21PM (#12149914)
        Fact is, the brain keeps developing after the baby is born, so even if you're perfectly normal but blindfolded (or in the dark) for you first few years, you won't be able to ever see "normally". Same goes for some other complex brain functions, like using language. One of those funny facts that stick with you from college classes :)
        • Re:From birth? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by audacity242 ( 324061 )
          Sort of true, not entirely. How would you explain people who have cochlear implants? By all accounts, those work pretty dang well.

          Also, comparing it to language development is a big stretch, vision and language are vastly different, particularly since vision isn't "learned" like language is.
      • Re:From birth? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by duffahtolla ( 535056 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:40PM (#12150047)
        No, this is true. Being in the womb is why babies are born with crappy vision. The neural pathways in the brain have not yet formed. As the baby tries to "see" things, the pathways map themselves to the signals. Thats why you can't leave an eye patch on a new born for too long.

        This goes on for about 6 to 9 years where vision stops development.

        There was a case where a mans vision was restored, (Lost durring childhood) where he simply could not deal with his new vision. He nearly killed himself trying to pick up the "toy" car outside his window. He voluntarily went back to blindness. (I have no references, sorry)

        Even the article specifically states: "US scientists have designed a bionic eye to allow blind people to see again."

        • This goes on for about 6 to 9 years where vision stops development.

          I have seen this theory before, with a period varying from one to ten years for the "plastic" period of brain formation. The question is, how do they know? No one has ever been able to fully restore eye function on someone who was born blind. This means no one really knows if someone who was born blind can or cannot learn to see if given perfect eye function at an adult age.

          The fact is that adult people *can* learn new things. The brain r

          • Actually, there is a scenario they have experimented with. Some people are born with severe cataracts. Surgery can remove those cataracts now, but 20 years ago when they started doing this, they found that if they did not remove the cataracts within a certain amount of time, the brain did not develop sufficiently for eye-sight to be restored. A friend of mine has this problem (she is legally blind). Her daughter was born with the same defect but this time they were able to operate quickly after birth, r
        • Re:From birth? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by RabidMoose ( 746680 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:43PM (#12150478) Homepage
          So as soon as it's apparent that a baby has been born blind, fit them with the eye and glasses. It could be done around the same time a male baby would be circumcised (in the first year), and the child would not only never remember the surgery, but would never remember not being able to see. Of course, I'm no doctor, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.
    • I'm not so sure that people bling from birth will benefit ...

      I think they will. After all, the rich keep gettin' richer, and the poor keep gettin' poorer.
    • "I'm not so sure that people bling from birth "

      I'm sure that Puffy has a lot of little brats running about the mansions bedecked in bling.

    • Re:From birth? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lux ( 49200 )
      I don't think so, either, and the actual article doesn't make any such claims. Just the /. summary.

      There is actually a similar (in concept) device that has already been tested in humans. IIRC, the guy walks around with a hefty wearable computer/power source.

      One drawback to the this approach (plugging into the eye) is that by interfacing with the optical system so close to the surface, you preclude the possibility of helping people who have damage to their optic nerve. But there's a lot to be said for t
    • ...but it does say, "U.S scientists have designed a bionic eye to allow blind people to see again.", implying that said blind people had seen once before.

      It's possible that the summary said differently, but there's no "edited" note.
    • Bling? (Score:5, Funny)

      by infinite9 ( 319274 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:27PM (#12150364)
      I'm not so sure that people bling from birth will benefit from any such device.

      Bling from birth?! That's the shit fer shizzle, ma nizzle!
    • Re:From birth? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Vorondil28 ( 864578 )
      The thing is: It depends on having a viable set of optic nerves, etc'. Most people that (effectively) haven't had sight all their lives have functioning eyes (and in some cases even retinas) but due to infection during infancy, genetic defect, etc', either their optic nerves or parts of the brain are non-functional. (Case in point: Helen Kellar had meningitis as an infant and lost her hearing and sight before she was two years old.)

      Consequently, the article has no mention of people "blind from birth" (
      • Re:From birth? (Score:3, Informative)

        by poopdeville ( 841677 )
        There was an episode of Scientific American Frontier where a test subject was blindfolded and asked to interpret symbols (braille) by touch. The sight-area of the brain took on the task of interpreting the symbols (since it's used often for reading, etc') only after a few days without sight.

        You're right, but she had to give up the ability to see to do that. Her visual cortex adapted to not recieving any visual stimulus by making her tactile sensation stronger through a lot of braille exercises. Now, th
  • by AtariAmarok ( 451306 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:13PM (#12149837)
    Look at distant car...


    See close-up view of its license plate.

  • by SkOink ( 212592 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:13PM (#12149840) Homepage
    If I recall correctly, people who have been blind their whole lives can never really 'learn' to see, after age 3 or so. At least, not on anywhere near the same level that people can see naturally, even assuming that they had an absolutely perfect prothesis. Who this will benefit are people who have went blind at some point during their adult life due to injury, glaucoma, diabetes (yes, it can make you go blind), drinking too much rubbing alcohol, or something similar.
    • by Lux ( 49200 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:15PM (#12149853)
      > Who this will benefit are people who have went blind at some point during their adult life due to injury, glaucoma, diabetes (yes, it can make you go blind), drinking too much rubbing alcohol, or something similar.

      You forgot masturbation.
    • by RFC959 ( 121594 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:24PM (#12149940) Journal
      Yes, this jibes with what I've heard too. Google for "Parmelee Sigman kitten" and you find references to a study in which kittens were blindfolded from birth to adulthood; when the blindfolds were removed, they were unable to see and never gained the ability to see, despite the fact that their eyes were physically normal - their brains simply weren't wired for it. Still, we've discovered that the adult brain is more plastic than we used to think, so I wouldn't totally rule out the possibility. They mention macular degeneration in the article, and this is a big one, since it's a major cause of blindness in the elderly (my grandmother and great-aunt were both legally blind in their old age because of it). Something that can fix that would help make living longer better, instead of just longer.
    • True. The article summary is just wrong, based on the incorrect assumption that the brains of people blind from birth are identical to those who have lost their sight.

      The development of the visual cortext that supports sight occurs considerably before age 3. If one were to develop a prosthesis for those born without sight, it would have to be introduced very early.

      You're right that the research mentioned in the article will help those who have had sight and then lost it through disease or injury, a huge g

    • You do recall correctly, however like we have talked about almost ad nauseam on Slashdot, there are all sorts of problems with the current strategies of rescuing vision with bionic (and many biological approaches). My doctoral dissertation work focused on this problem and on what happens to the retina when it has become deafferented. What you refer to is the creation of visual pathways leading to and organizing within the cortex a the critical age. Without these pathways, one could attempt to bypass many
    • why would the visual cortex have to be the only place to process vision? Why would those neural routes have to be the only ones to carry vision signals?

      yes, I know the types of neurons in the back of the brain are best suited for this type of processing. but what is to say that other regions of the brain couldn't handle some of the tasks.

      someone blind from birth can still navigate around by touch. Could we not someday make an "eye" which allows them to more "feel" things at distances than "see"?

      I think j
      • I'm out of my league here but i'll chance an opinionated responce.

        I don't think what you are saying it out of the realms of possability. The human body has shown extream abilities to compensate for sensory functions lost and i have no reason to believe that it couldn't do the oposite. It might require the loss or lack of some other sence (maybe wearing earplugs) to "shock" the body into a self preservation state were it would develope or work with the other areas.

        If i understand the article right, the sig
  • by gcauthon ( 714964 ) * on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:14PM (#12149841)
    It may help people that were blinded later in life through an accident or cataracts. However, if someone is blind from birth then their visual cortex never develops and vision would be impossible even with an artificial eye. Many studies have been done. Click here [] here [] and here [] for more info.
    • Yes, but if there is a BABY blind from birth they can give them these artificial eyes, and let them see *from birth*. Yes, it won't help people who are already older and blind from birth, but in the future there is a potential of no one ever being blind, is there not?
  • by pilkul ( 667659 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:14PM (#12149850)
    For once a story where the Bill-Gates-of-Borg icon would've been appropriate!

    Seriously though, I am impressed at this technology. ; I didn't think it was possible to do surgery precisely enough to connect into the optic nerve.

  • by RootsLINUX ( 854452 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `xunilstoor'> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:15PM (#12149852) Homepage
    So, how long until someone is able to boot linux on it? >_>
  • by OneOver137 ( 674481 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:16PM (#12149863) Journal
    but it kinda seems like cheatin' with the external camera. I wonder why they couldn't incorporate the simple optical train into the eye directly? The benefit is that you could see in UV, IR, etc. with a camera and software swap.
  • It sounds like their chip is hooked up to the optical nerve, not directly into brain, so while it might help people with macular degeneration it won't do much for cases when optical nerve is damaged (like glaucoma). I hope I am wrong though.
  • by nharmon ( 97591 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:17PM (#12149871)
    It's not made into a stylish visor [].

    How do we expect Star Trek to hold any weight if we do an end run around the technology!
  • Related (Score:4, Informative)

    by FiReaNGeL ( 312636 ) <> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:17PM (#12149874) Homepage
  • hmmm. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sugapablo ( 600023 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:18PM (#12149883) Homepage
    So how long before upgrades make this "bionic eye" significantly better than a human eye?

    Will we reach a point where attaching this bionic eye becomes an elective surgery where someone wants to simply improve their eyesight beyond 20/20; beyond what a mere "human" can see?

    Breast inlargements, designer babies, bionic implants....where is it all going?
    • A human brain encased in a robot running linux?
    • So how long before upgrades make this "bionic eye" significantly better than a human eye?

      I don't care so much about better than a human eye, I'd be happy with as good as a human eye.

      I have 20/800 vision (correctable to 20/20) - roughly comparable to my being able to see clearly at the ten yard line with uncorrected vision what someone with 20/20 vision could see clearly from 3 football fields away. I am concerned about my eyes outright failing on me due to retinal detachment or other malfunction. I'm l
  • Generations (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thunderstruck ( 210399 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:18PM (#12149884)
    My great grandmother could hardly see or hear for years before she died. My grandmother has a cochlear implant and can hear better now than when she could 10 years ago. She says its the single most amazing thing she's experienced, and she experienced everything from the great depression to the Patriot Act.

    The interesting question is, what is more important, being able hear and thus communicate with people around you, or being able to see?

  • When do they release the night vision/xray models?
  • It was once my favorite program back in the '70s. I want the built in 40x zoom and night vision capabilities that he had!

  • Something similar (Score:3, Informative)

    by MHobbit ( 830388 ) <mhobbit09@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:19PM (#12149900)
    I recall during my 4th grade year (about 4 years ago), scientists devised a method for an Indiana man who was blind to see again. What they did, IIRC, was create a pair of glasses that fed the digitized data through a wire to a processor worn around his waist, which in turn transferred the data as electrical signals into his brain directly (as you can guess, they had to drill a hole in his head; a small one though). This method allowed the once-blind man to see about 20 feet in front.

    Soon after, they ended up innovating that even more.

    Not really close to the bionic eye idea, but close; earlier in the generations.
  • by wskellenger ( 675359 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:20PM (#12149913) Homepage Journal
    They did []. I remember the cover vividly -- the guy wearing sunglasses with the camera as a lens.

    They were stimulating nerves in the eye with tiny electrodes, although they had to ask the patient where in his field of vision he saw the phosphene as they stimulated him. From this they created a "mapping" of sorts.

    This sort of research was frowned upon on the US, and so it had to be carried out overseas. Check out the article -- more info than the linked BBC one.

    • There are several groups working on competing approaches. There are two groups in the US (disclaimer: I work for one) and one in Germany working on the epitetinal electrical stimulation approach; one US group working on a subretinal light-powered device; one US group working on an approach involving light-activated neurotransmitter chemicals, one group in Belgium using an optic nerve "cuff" electrode; a group using cortical stimulation (the main subject of the Wired article); and probably others, not to men
  • This is OLD news! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nilbog ( 732352 )
    This news is so old it stinks. They have been expirementing with bionic eyes since the 70's. I remember watching 3,2,1 contact or some such show where they showed a guy with a bionic eye.

    This crops up in the news every once in a while but I haven't seen it go anywhere, the artificial eye is never good enough to go into mass usage.

    Another variety of eye bionics actually fuses microchips to the eye, but they found that eyes are much to sensitive to be able to withstand the heat generated from the IE chips

    • This news is so old it stinks.

      No kidding. Bionic eyes and my personal jet car.

      "Trials" in a year? How many subjects? Any institutional or commercial backing? What constitutes "success"? Plans for commercial production and rollout if the trials succeed? I'm not holding my breath that I'll see any of these guys wandering around in the next decade or two.
  • Mental imaging (Score:3, Interesting)

    by liangzai ( 837960 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:22PM (#12149920) Homepage
    Some people who have been blind since birth get very depressed when their vision is medically restored and they see the world as it actually is. It doesn't correspond at all to the colorful paradise their hardware has come up with in lack of sensors.

    I guess it's like realizing there is no god after having been brought up in a religious home, or finding out that W. Gates III isn't the saint he has been described to be after filling his pockets for twenty years.

    Or maybe it is like Neo finally seeing the rotting world after swallowing the blue pill.
  • I wonder... (Score:3, Funny)

    by catdevnull ( 531283 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @09:28PM (#12149964)
    I wonder if it will make that cool boopity sound [] like Steve Austin's Six Million Dollar eye did?

    [For the record--I have no idea WTF that music is in that sound byte!]
  • I'm pretty sure I remember a few years back there were a few articles about a device that pretty much did the exact same thing. It interfaced with the brain and used a video camera to let blind people see. Anybody know if this new technology is any different (other than smaller)?
  • and keep the radiation to a minimum...

    and check for loose wires.
  • by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @10:00PM (#12150158) Homepage
    I was an interpreter for some time, and learned one magic thing about implants adding abilities missing from birth or from accidents... it only works to the degree that the person accepts the information. If the blind person (from birth) *WANTED*, they would most definitely train their brain to use the data. maybe not perfectly, but they would have some sight. I knew deaf people who WANTED to hear with their implant, and could quite well after a few years of training.. others who never did get the hang of it. Its like trying to train someone to smell music... if some device provided the input, and you really wanted it, you'd learn. with much dammit and aggrivation, but you'd do it.
  • it's money !

    There's no big money involved for med. firms.

    Also notice there is no photo of what patients visualize with this device. It's not photographic quality.

    Not a big achievment in my opinion. Not newsworthy. I have heard of something similar years ago.
  • There.. I said it.

    One to beam up.
  • by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <> on Tuesday April 05, 2005 @11:12PM (#12150683) Homepage Journal
    They have been making brain implant vision systems since 1978 []

    In late 2002 this method was up to 68 implanted electrodes (which would be about equal to an 8x8 matrix)

    HOWEVER, you need more than 1000 (say 32x32 or 1028) or above for any really useful vision [] With 8x8 you might recognize one or two ASCII characters. A Face??? Only if it's an emoticon.

    Now granted these are implants in the retina and not the visual cortex, but I have seen other claims for retinal implants over the last five years.

    Why is this research taking so long to bear fruit? In 1978 progress was limited by the available CPU horsepower to translate images into usable grid stimulation patterns. Now it seems we are stalled out with our ability to put electrodes in organic systems.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is easy, but why doesn't this stuff scale like Moore's Law with integrated circuits? Given the state of research over a decade ago we should be up to VGA quality arrays of 640x480 by now.

    In general prosthetics systems always seem to be on the verge of some "Steve Austin" "Million Dollar Man" arrival and then never makes it. I assure you when we watched Lee Majors in the early '70s wha-na-na-na-na'ing all over the place we assumed such feats would be common place by the year 2000. What the hell happened? Is this just hard like AI, or under-funded and poorly organized?

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