Scientists Receive $25 Million to Develop a Vision-Restoring System that Connects to the Brain
The high-tech, vision-restoring system interfaces with the visual cortex, the back of the brain where visual input is processed to create the images we see.
[caption id="attachment_5271" align="alignright" width="300"] Labels in English are (clockwise from upper left): Intelligent neuromorphic camera/LED; Matrix for optical stimulation of neurons/electronic; Implant for data processing/external; Antenna for energy transfer and wireless communication; External module for visual information transfer[/caption] While researchers around the world are developing numerous drugs and biological therapies for ocular diseases and injuries, an international scientific team coordinated in France is developing an innovative approach to bring back eyesight to the blind that bypasses the eye entirely. Their high-tech, vision-restoring system interfaces with the visual cortex, the back of the brain where visual input is processed to create the images we see. The CorticalSight Consortium, led by Jose-Alain Sahel, MD, at the Institut de la Vision and the University of Pittsburgh, and Serge Picaud, PhD, at the Institut de la Vision, was recently awarded a contract of up to $24.9 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for development of their system, which combines optogenetics and advanced image-capturing and -processing technologies. A major advantage of the approach is it is designed to provide vision restoration for people regardless of their eye disease or condition.
The vision-restoration system includes a high-definition camera, worn over the eyes like glasses, to collect visual information. The data captured by the glasses is sent to a small processing module that produces light-based patterns, that are routed wirelessly to a micro-LED stimulator connected to the visual cortex. Patients will have an optogenetic treatment — a light-sensing gene therapy — administered to their visual cortex, so it can respond to light from the micro-LED. "Our technology has the potential to restore useful vision for advanced forms of retinal injury or degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, as well as untreatable conditions that affect the front of the eye and the optic nerve. Currently, there are virtually no therapeutic options for many of these patients," says Dr. Sahel. "We are grateful to the Foundation Fighting Blindness for supporting optogenetics research that will inform this project and for making us aware of the funding opportunity from DARPA." Dr. Sahel adds that the CorticalSight Consortium hopes to move the system into an initial human study in about four years. Academic members of the consortium include: the Institut de la Vision (France), Stanford University (U.S.), the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (Switzerland), and the Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (France). Commercial partners include: GenSight Biologics (France), Chronocam (France), and Inscopix (U.S.).