Researchers have developed a prosthetic device that restores near-normal vision to blind retinas in mice. More than 20 million people worldwide are blind or at risk of blindness due to retinal degenerative diseases such as macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, and current prosthetics allow for only rudimentary perception of light. Sheila Nirenberg and Chethan Pandarinath sought to overcome this limitation by incorporating the code normally used by the retina to communicate with the brain into a high-resolution prosthetic device.
In normal eyes, the visual signal is translated into different patterns of electrical pulses as it passes from one cell to another and finally to the ganglion cells that communicate with the brain. The authors determined the code that directs this series of translations and built a prosthetic device containing an encoder that translates the external visual world into patterns of electrical pulses similar to those produced by the normal retina. In blind mice, ganglion cells stimulated by this method fired correctly nearly 90% of the time.
Mice were able to discern facial features and visually track an image. According to the authors, the findings present essential building blocks for developing a highly effective retinal prosthetic device.
“Retinal prosthetic strategy with the capacity to restore normal vision,” by Sheila Nirenberg and Chethan Pandarinath
Ms. Nirenberg was awarded the “genius prize” from the MacArthur foundation for 2013 for her work in this field.