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How A Team Of Spanish Researchers Managed To Restore Sight To A Blind Woman

Recently, a team of Spanish, Dutch and American researchers (attached to several centers such as the Alicante University Hospital, the Vega Baja Hospital and the Miguel Hernández University) managed to restore sight to a woman who had been blind for 16 years using a brain implant. Now, they have published the results of this research in the scientific journal The Journal of Clinical Investigation .

Groundbreaking technology
As stated in the article, the idea of ​​transmitting information from an external receptor to the visual cortex of the brain is not new, and in fact it has already been tried on several occasions. However, previous experiences in this direction had encountered several problems , such as the inability to achieve sufficient spatial resolution for the patient to be able to distinguish shapes adequately.

However, and based on these previous experiments, the authors on this occasion set out to test the efficacy of an implant based on microelectrodes arranged in a grid and placed in the right occipital cortex of the patient.

With this, they try to transmit images (phosphenes, which is the name given to the visual impressions generated in the brain by means such as electrical, magnetic or mechanical stimulation) to the brain through microstimulation , unlike previous experiments that used electrodes normal size.

Safe and effective
The experiment was conducted over a period of six months on a patient who had lost her vision 16 years earlier. As they explain, they got this woman to recognize different shapes, patterns and even letters by stimulating different microelectrodes at the same time.

In addition, they did not observe any significant side effects or complications , so this type of brain implant can be considered safe.

However, the researchers do point out that, on occasions, the stimulation of several microelectrodes close to each other caused the patient to perceive a single shape , losing details of the image that they were trying to transmit through the implant.

A first step
Be that as it may, the authors remember that the experience is part of an investigation, rather than a clinical treatment . As such, it has a number of limitations that are important to be aware of, and many aspects of this technology will need to be improved and calibrated before it can be made available in the clinic.

The objective, furthermore, is not to restore complete vision to blind people (something that, today, is not possible) but rather to achieve a functional sense of sight , which can allow them to perceive objects and shapes of their environment and, perhaps, interpret texts, symbols or signs.

Therefore, future research needs to delve into the technique to achieve better spatial resolution, as well as to verify that it works equally in more patients and the evolution of its functioning over longer periods of time.