Public release date: 23-Sep-2009
Contact: Jen Hirsch
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Results: MIT engineers have designed a retinal implant for people who have lost their vision from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration, two of the leading causes of blindness. The retinal prosthesis would help restore some vision by electrically stimulating the nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain.
Why it matters: The chip would not restore normal vision but could help blind people more easily navigate a room or walk down a sidewalk. "Anything that could help them see a little better and let them identify objects and move around a room would be an enormous help," says Shawn Kelly, a researcher in MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics and member of the Boston Retinal Implant Project.
Next steps: The research team, led by John Wyatt, MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, recently reported a new prototype that they hope to start testing in blind patients within the next three years, after some safety refinements are made. Once human trials begin and blind patients can offer feedback on what they're seeing, the researchers will learn much more about how to configure the algorithm implemented by the chip to produce useful vision.