Sheila Nirenberg shows a bold way to create sight in people with certain kinds of blindness, by hooking into the optic nerve and sending signals from a camera directly to the brain. The brain takes in information from the outside world, and converts it into patterns of electrical activity, and then uses those patterns to do things – to see, hear, to reach for an object.
Sheila reports that “there are 10 million people in the U.S. and many more worldwide who are blind or are facing blindness due to diseases of the retina, diseases like macular degeneration, and there’s little that can be done for them. There are some drug treatments, but they’re only effective on a small fraction of the population. And so, for the vast majority of patients, their best hope for regaining sight is through prosthetic devices. The problem is that current prosthetics don’t work very well. They’re still very limited in the vision that they can provide. And so, you know, for example, with these devices, patients can see simple things like bright lights and high contrast edges, not very much more, so nothing close to normal vision has been possible.”
You can watch Sheila present this technology at a TED Conference: