Researchers at Cornell University claim to have found the neural code to restore vision for those to have lost their vision due to retina defects.
For the first time, researchers were able to decipher the code a natural retina that is then converted into electrical impulses sent by the retina's output cells to the brain. According to the scientists, typical retina diseases destroy the retina's photoreceptors and the associated circuitry to convert the light impulses. As long as the output cells, or ganglion cells, are still intact - which is the usual case with a retina disease - the deciphering of the retina code enables the construction of chip implants that, in theory, restores vision.
So far, the researchers claim, the concept has worked to help blind mice see again. They also claim to have "cracked" the code of a monkey retina, "which is essentially identical to that of a human". The hope is that 25 million people who are blind because of a retina disease will be able to see again. The researchers believe that their device can provide a "near normal" ability to see.
According to the project, an "encoder" chip can be used to convert natural images received by the eye into "streams of electrical impulses", while a mini-projector is deployed to converts these electrical impulses to light impulses. The researcher found that light-sensitive proteins that are placed in the ganglion cells enable a transmission of the code to the brain.
The researchers said that their prosthetic will undergo human clinical trials, which aims to ensure the safety of the necessary gene therapy to integrate the light-sensitive protein. There was no information when this technology could become available, but clinical trials typically take several years until completed.