A tiny camera receives visual information from the environment and transmits signals to a bionic contact lens.
By Dan Even, HAARETZ
Israeli scientists have developed a technology that may enable people who are blind from birth to see, with the help of a bionic contact lens.
The new technology, developed by a team at Bar-Ilan University, has yet to receive approval for clinical trials, but its feasibility is currently being tested on seeing individuals, with the aid of a model simulating the bionic lens.
The technology consists of a tiny camera that receives visual information from the environment and transmits signals to a bionic contact lens. The lens passes the signals via electrodes to the cornea and from there to sensory brain areas, generating a stimulus that simulates visual information.
“This technology is good news for humanity, especially in bringing sight to people blind from birth without requiring surgery or damaging other vital senses or organs,” says Prof. Zeev Zalevsky, head of Electrical Engineering and Nanophotonics at Bar-Ilan University, who headed the research team.
In recent years, several companies around the world have developed a bionic eye, but all of them rely on a technology which is of little help to those who are congenitally blind. This system, which bypasses the retina, is intended for those who suffer from retinal degeneration. It consists of a tiny camera implanted in the eye that transmits electric signals directly to the sight nerves attached to the retina, bypassing the retina and generating visual stimulation.
In addition, that system is invasive and requires surgery. It also depends on the stimulation of brain areas that process sight, which are developed in childhood. This makes it unsuitable for those who are blind from birth, since those areas of the brain are not developed in congenitally blind people. The U.S. company Second Sight, the German company Retina Implant AG, the Australian company Bionic Vision and the Israeli company Nano Retina all use this technology.
The visual resolution in existing bionic eyes is about 16 pixels, compared to a million (1 mega) pixels in a normal eye. This enables people with bionic eye implants to distinguish between light and darkness and shadows, but not to make out entire objects or letters, or to be independently mobile.
In contrast, the new Israeli technology is non-invasive and is intended to provide sight to the congenitally blind.
“The new technology attempts to deal with the problems of existing bionic eye technologies to enable even people who are blind from birth, in whom the brain region that processes visual information is not developed, to see,” explains Zalevsky.
The bionic lens stimulates the corneal nerves in the eye’s external part, which are connected in the brain to areas that process sensory information.
The technology consists of a tiny camera with an image compressor and an electric signal amplifier located outside the patient’s body and can be attached to his eye glasses or to a cellular device. Super resolution techniques are used “to encode an image of numerous pixels and compress it into …read more