Scientists in the Texas Medical Center believe that there may be a way to use mental images to help some of the estimated 39 million people worldwide who are blind.
Scientists in the laboratories of Michael Beauchamp, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, and Daniel Yoshor, M.D., an associate professor of neurosurgery and neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, have discovered a neural mechanism for conscious perception that could use the brain’s image-generating ability.
“While much work remains to be done, the possibilities are exciting,” said Beauchamp, the study’s lead author. “If successful, we would in essence bypass eyes that no longer work and stimulate the brain to generate mental images. This type of device is known as a visual prosthetic.”
What do you see, when you turn out the light?
Someone who is blind might wear eyeglasses containing a webcam. The tiny camera would relay information to a computer chip implanted in a person’s visual cortext,` which would activate electrodes.
“With all the remarkable advances in computers and technology in recent years, the time is now ripe to develop a visual prosthetic. A key obstacle to progress right now is our limited understanding of how brain activity leads to visual perception. 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,” said Yoshor, the study’s senior author.
The Houston team and others working in the field of neural engineering are focused on repairing disorders of the brain and nervous system.