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Australia Biotech Medicine Technology

Bionic Eye Lets Blind Woman Experience Vision 52

An anonymous reader writes "Australian researchers implanted a bionic eye with 24 electrodes in Ms Dianne Ashworth, a 54-year-old who had limited vision due to a inherited condition called retinitis pigmentosa. The implant has allowed her to see flashes of light and shapes when researchers deliver electrical pulses to the device. From the article: 'This early prototype consists of a retinal implant with 24 electrodes. A small lead wire extends from the back of the eye to a connector behind the ear. An external system is connected to this unit in the laboratory, allowing researchers to stimulate the implant in a controlled manner in order to study the flashes of light. Feedback from Ms Ashworth will allow researchers to develop a vision processor so that images can be built using flashes of light. This early prototype does not incorporate an external camera – yet. This is planned for the next stage of development and testing.'"
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Bionic Eye Lets Blind Woman Experience Vision

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  • Not vision (Score:5, Informative)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday August 31, 2012 @12:29AM (#41186631) Homepage Journal

    Note: This is *NOT* vision. This is an uncoordinated stimulation of neurons that is no more vision than poking your eye and seeing flashes of light or knocking yourself on the back of the head and seeing stars. Vision is a far more complicated matter and these investigators that are promoting this bionic chip have ignored or are ignorant of over a decade of research that shows the neurons in the eye change their wiring in response to retinal degenerative disease. When the wiring in the retina changes, it is no longer able to mediate normal retinal signaling...

    Yes, I am a vision scientist.

  • Previous work? (Score:4, Informative)

    by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Friday August 31, 2012 @12:37AM (#41186655)
    What's happened to previous work in this field? I remember years ago an implant that let a blind man (how blind he was, I do not know) see the equivalent of a monochrome 16x16 image. It allowed for basic shapes and object recognition. This one seems to be a step back. What gives?
  • Re:Not vision (Score:5, Informative)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday August 31, 2012 @12:59AM (#41186733) Homepage Journal

    What they are claiming is that the bionic implant will work in a degenerate retina. The substrate circuitry has changed. No chance of it transducing vision... They are either going to have to intervene at an earlier time point (much earlier than most folks realize) or bypass the retina or reconstruct the retina. There is more biology at play here than a simple engineering project.

  • Re:Not vision (Score:5, Informative)

    by femto ( 459605 ) on Friday August 31, 2012 @01:45AM (#41186887) Homepage

    The background to this project is that a newly elected government held a big "vox poluli" talk fest called 2020 [wikipedia.org], which was to lay out a "big vision" for Australia. A result was the announcement [theage.com.au] of $50 million funding for a bionic eye project. It's entirely possible that there is an element of "gung ho" about it in that a large chunk of money was laid down for a project that made politicians look good and was easy for the public to understand.

    Having said that, there are some pretty smart people involved. As an Australian taxpayer, I'd hope that they are aware for the problems you raise and, given the grandness of the project, would plan on addressing such tough, tough problems. Given your area of expertise, maybe you should contact them? There might be some pretty exciting work to be done in collaboration?

  • Re:Not vision (Score:4, Informative)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday August 31, 2012 @04:12AM (#41187391) Homepage Journal

    From work already done, we know that even very minimal vision is a vast improvement in quality of life over no vision. Yes, probing blindly (no pun intended) is quite hackish, but if a person gets something vision like that is useful, that's a fine result.

    I would argue that 100% of medical treatments we have today from first aid up are all based on moving ahead without necessarily understanding the biology. For example, we have used aspirin for over a century but only recently gained some idea of how it works. Clearly though, that understanding was flawed since the first attempt to produce a better treatment based on the new understanding gave us vioxx, which didn't work out so well. It was quite a long time from when we figured out setting bones and casting to the time we had any idea how the bone then heals. All we know is that if you put the ends more or less back together and support it for a while, it would heal.

    I have no doubt that better understanding of the biology will result in better engineering and ultimately better vision, but meanwhile, there are people who are blind right now. It is important not to let perfect be the enemy of functional.

    Meanwhile, the entire point of the work in TFA is to learn more about what is actually required to get functional vision this way. It's certainly a lot less risky than implants directly into the visual cortex (which have been tried with some success).

Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this-- no dog exchanges bones with another. -- Adam Smith