Collin Arocho
8 December 2020

The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) is one step closer to restoring partial vision in the blind. Recently, the institute published findings on its newly developed high-resolution implant. The implants, which are placed in the brain’s visual cortex, are designed to enable users to recognize artificially induced shapes and percepts, providing a rudimentary level of vision. While development of the implants is still in the early stages, tests have produced promising results.

The system works by delivering electrical stimulation to the brain via an implanted electrode, which generates the percept of a dot of light at a particular location in visual space, known as a “phosphene.” In its tests with two sighted monkeys, NIN researchers aimed to create interpretable images by delivering electrical stimulation simultaneously via multiple electrodes, to generate a percept that was composed of multiple phosphenes. By utilizing new implant production and implantation technologies, cutting-edge materials engineering, microchip fabrication and microelectronics, the team develped high-resolution implants consisting of an unprecedented 1024 electrodes.

“Our implant interfaces directly with the brain, bypassing prior stages of visual processing via the eye or the optic nerve,” says Xing Chen, a postdoctoral researcher on the NIN team. “Hence, in the future, such technology could be used for the restoration of low vision in blind people who have suffered injury or degeneration of the retina, eye or optic nerve, but whose visual cortex remains intact.”