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Surprising Science

Microchip Implant Restores Vision to the Blind

Two previously blind British patients have had partial vision restored by a microchip implanted behind their retinas, indicating to the brain that the eye is receiving light. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Two previously blind British men have regained some vision after being fitted with a retinal implant developed by two opticians at the Oxford Eye Hospital and King’s College Hospital in London. The two men suffered from a previously inoperable condition in which photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye gradually cease to function. The opticians developed a “wafer-thin, 3mm square microchip with 1,500 light-sensitive pixels that take over the function of the failed photoreceptor rods and cones.” When light enters the eye, the chip sends a signal to the optic nerve and from there to the brain. “The end result is the perception of light.”

What’s the Big Idea?

While the chip is part of a clinical trial, and therefore not yet a treatment, the advance represents a significant step in augmenting biological processes with a computer. Once the brain receives the signal which indicates the perception of light, patients can alter the sensitivity of the signal “by using a power unit which connects to the chip via a magnetic disc on the scalp.” In an unexpected result of the operation, one of the patients said he has dreamt in color for the first time in 25 years. The next phase of the trial will see a dozen British patients receive the implant. 

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