New research enables blind people to see letters

New research from the Baylor College of medicine Houston has enabled blind people to see letters. But what’s a more interesting thing is that it works on sighted people as well. The study was published in the journal Cell can be a revolution in the field of visual prosthetics.

Visual prosthetics work by placing visual implants on the visual cortex, which helps to trace out the patterns or shapes. This tracing then enables the participants to see those patterns and shapes. Researchers say that a newer version of the device can provide the nature and boundary of shapes encountered. Like, in the way, it also helps people to identify their fellow members of the family. They say it can work more as an advanced cochlear implant that stimulates the auditory nerve to enable hearing. But in this case, it stimulates the brain and thereby enables vision. With this device in the early days, potential advancements in the future can make this device indispensable to blind people.

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The study

The researchers crafted the letters by stimulating the brain with electrical currents. These electrical currents generate phosphenes that people without any light entering in their eyes. We see that phosphenes appear as quirk when light bounces from an object and enters our eyes, which seems as points of light. They also appear when we rub our eyes persistently for a while in a dark room. Researchers describe this phenomenon as seeing stars, while initially scientists thought only sighted people had this seeing stars phenomenon. Later, French physicians revealed that it could occur in blind people too by stimulating the visual cortex.

Therefore, the team lays an array of electrodes on the visual cortices of five people. Of this, three of them are sighted, and two are blind. The electrodes specifically kept over a region called V1, where information from retinas will process. The sighted individuals had implants in their brains as a part of the seizure treatments. The blind individuals also underwent a separate treatment where their implants were placed.

Although, when multiple electrodes got activated, phosphates appeared in multiple alone and not as shapes. Therefore they decided to sweep across the current so that brain recognizes shapes. They generated phosphenes in between two electrodes and that both were getting connected. With this pattern, they drew” W,” “S,” and “Z.” The shapes had to be drawn backward since that is the way visual perceptions work with our eyes. As a result, the participants drew the alphabet efficiently on the touch screen. This can possibly revolutionize the field of visual prosthetics and soon be the eye of the blind people.

The future

While the technology seems to be promising, it has a lot of obstacles to be implemented. As for envisioning people, we need a lot of implants inside our brains. They might be designed in such a way they penetrate our brains and lie close to our brains. Although this can be effective, a lot of electrodes on closer space will cause disruption and overlapping of signals. But in the first place to achieve this, we should manufacture electrodes that are long-lasting within our brains, and such implants should not any suffice damages to our brian tissues while eliciting electrical signals.

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We should also see that people have various causes for their blindness, so we might need different electrodes to support them. But on the whole, we can possibly believe this technology can definitely be the eyes of future blind people. Further advancements on this will tell us tales about implementing this in the future.

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Source: LiveScience

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