Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology have developed new brain implant technology that aims to help bring sight to the blind. And it landed a grant from the National Institutes of Health to begin clinical trials.
The Illinois Tech research team, led by Philip Troyk, executive director of the school’s Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering, created a wireless visual prosthesis system that’s implanted in a patient’s brain to help restore partial vision to someone who’s lost the ability to see. The team received a $2.5 million grant from the NIH recently as the clinical trial process begins.
The implant system, called the Intracortical Visual Prosthesis, connects directly to the visual cortex of the brain, bypassing the retina and optic nerves. By implanting these miniaturized, wireless stimulators, the researchers believe they can help people with no sight visualize rendered images in real time.
Given that people with total blindness don’t have intact retinas or optic nerves, but do have the visual cortex, which is the area of the brain that allows you to see, researchers are hopeful that this approach can bring some level of sight to the blind.
The start of clinical trials is a major development in Illinois Tech’s nearly three decades of research around bringing artificial sight to the blind.
“This is an incredibly exciting moment, not just for the field of biomedical science, but more importantly for people with blindness and their loved ones around the world,” Troyk said in a statement.
The team has spent the last two years in the pre-clinical phase, working with surgeons to develop implanting procedures. The researchers say that are now ready to surgically implant the devices in test subjects to see if and how it can improve sight. Implant surgeries are scheduled to take place at Rush University Medical Center in early 2021, the university said.