Much research has been conducted lately into technological usage of microchips and surgical procedures to help those suffering from many forms of blindness into gaining partial sight through prosthetic devices which mimic eye function, but researchers in America believe they have discovered a way to ‘trick’ the brain into producing visual images in around 40 million of those globally with loss of sight.
Bending the biological laws of brain imagery
At present, it is only possible for able sighted people to produce pictures in their minds from personal life experiences they have physically seen, as the brain has to respond to the visual cues to make any kind of imagery in the mind possible. This is the primary reason why those who have been blind their whole life aren’t capable even of dreaming, as the brain has no visual stimulus of which to provide the alternate world we experience as we sleep.
The study conducted is still ongoing under the guidance of professor Michael Beauchamp, Ph.D., of The University of Texas Health Science Centre, alongside associate professor Daniel Yoshor, each with combined knowledge in neurobiology and neurosurgery respectively. The research has been elaborately named ‘Electrocorticography links human temporoparietal junction to visual perception’, and consists of manipulating the brain’s powerful image-generating ability via a neural mechanism to help those who are blind to visualise images in their minds after bypassing certain processes existing in humans with correct visual capacity.
How it Works
The device used on three volunteer patients with epilepsy aged between 18 to 47 is known as a ‘visual prosthetic’, essentially a webcam device attached to conventional eyeglasses which relays visual information captured within to a chip implanted in the brain, essentially bypassing the need for a working eye.
At present much work is required to truly figure out the relationship between brain activity and visual cues, with the stimulated illusion of a flash of light currently being transmitted only providing minimal image response, while in the future it is hoped heightened stimulation of the occipital lobe at the back of the brain which is responsible for mental imagery, will be able to perceive more advanced images, even if they are not actually there.
Beauchamp stated: “While much work remains to be done, the possibilities are exciting. This new study is a step toward our goal of better understanding visual perception, so we are better able to make a useful visual prosthetic”
More expansive trials are to be carried out, with the goal of creating more flashes of light by activating key areas of the brain, providing more useful images to those undergoing the procedure perhaps in the future.
Jamie blogs about vision for leading prescription spectacles online provider Direct Sight.