Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a microchip that could be used with wireless technology and eyeglasses equipped with a camera to restore at least partial vision to people who suffer from retinitis pigmentosa or age-related macular degeneration. Although the technology is not expected to restore normal or full vision, the researchers say it should be able to give people the ability to move about a room or walk down a sidewalk. "Anything that could help them see a little better and let them identify objects and move around a room would be an enormous help," says MIT's Shawn Kelly.
A prototype chip has been developed and could be tested on people within three years. The chips have been tested on miniature pigs, which have roughly the same size eyeballs as people. The tests did not determine whether the pigs responded to stimulation of the optic nerves, but rather how long the implants remained functional and whether they damaged the eye.
Scientists say the prototype technology could remain safely implanted for up to 10 months, but hope to improve the chip so it can remain implanted for 10 years. The chip picks up images sent from a camera and electrically stimulates the nerve cells that normally carry visual input from the retina to the brain.
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