Bernardeta Gómez has been blind for 16 years: today, thanks to a "bionic eye" developed by the Spanish neuroengineer Eduardo Fernandez, she was able to see again. And without using her biological eyes.
The bionic eye, the system that Fernandez is refining in his laboratory at Miguel Hernandez University, includes a few different parts. The details have been described in a newly published paper in the MIT Technology Review magazine.
How the bionic eye works
First of all, there are glasses equipped with a camera that connects to a computer. The computer translates the camera's live video feed into electronic signals. These signals are then sent via a cable to a door that Fernandez has surgically inserted into the back of Bernardeta's skull. Finally, that door is in turn connected to an implant in the visual cortex of the patient's brain.
6 months of sight
The 100-electrode neural implant was inserted and tested for 6 months, then "the bionic eye was removed". It must have been hard to regain your sight and then retake it again.
For those six months, however, Gómez visited the lab four times a week, using the system to see a low-resolution version of the world around her. Although what she "saw" in her mind were little more than bright spots, it was enough to allow her to identify letters, lights and people.
"He even played a simple computer game similar to Pac-Man directly in his brain.", I read on MIT Tech.
Bionic eye: it works. And now?
Now that Fernandez knows that his bionic eye is working, he is looking forward to the next steps. These will include methods of preventing implant degradation while it is in the body, and multiple-person testing.
"Bernardeta was our first patient, but in the next two years we will install implants in five other blind people. We had done similar experiments on animals, but a cat or a monkey cannot explain what they are seeing."
A new approach
The new approach of the good or eye could have a much greater impact than that obtained from the previous solutions.
All attempts to create a bionic eye were focused on implants in the eye itself. They needed a functioning eye, or a functioning optic nerve. Or other factors.