Dr. Sheila Nirenberg (right)

Millions of people who suffer from blindness or near-blindness have one more reason to hope. Dr. Sheila Nirenberg, a Neuroscientist has developed a technique that can use a camera and a processor to replace defective organic visual organs. She observed that the majority of such medical condition was induced by a damage to the retina which is the light-sensitive part of the eye, which captures light.

So far, she has been able to restore sight to mice that went from being completely blind to being able to visually track moving objects, and even distinguish a baby face, says nydailynews – although we’re not sure how the researchers measured that.

In any case, the idea is to bypass the damaged organic elements by using electronic parts like camera sensors. The hard part was to make the ganglion cells that are in the retina work with the synthetic apparatus. The ganglion cells form a layer in the retina and are responsible for turning light into an electric signal that is understood by the brain. Dr Nirenberg has managed to do just that. [she also presented her research at Ted, watch the video]

Without testing on humans, it is hard to know how “good” the restored sight is, but coming from total blindness, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t be a life-changing improvement, if it works. Once the basic technology is established, it would not be surprising to see incremental progress and in the long run, I think that “super-human” sight, or night-vision, to be possible.

Others have tried to use camera CMOS sensors before, but the genius about this technique is that Dr. Sheila Nirenberg lets the ganglion cells do the heavy-lifting of transcoding light into brain-compatible signals. Everyone else was trying to “crack the code” and got blurry vision at best. Dr Nirenberg thinks that her technique can result into a sharp vision. Impressive.

Filed in Medical..