Scientists are on the brink of restoring sight to the blind by sending moving images directly to the brain.
In a world-first, surgeons have implanted a visual stimulator chip in the brain of a 30-year-old woman.
The patient, who has been totally blind for seven years, saw coloured flashes, lines and spots when signals were sent to her brain from a computer.
Her doctors are now planning to send footage from a tiny video camera to the brain, which could provide the world’s first bionic eye and restore sight to millions.
The technology bypasses the eyes, meaning it has the potential to restore sight even to those who have lost an eye or become blinded by cancer.
During six weeks of testing, the patient has consistently seen the exact signals the scientists sent to her visual cortex, the section of the brain, which usually receives images from the optic nerve.
Doctors at the University of California Los Angeles, United States (U.S.), are awaiting permission from US regulators to connect the system to a camera, worn in a pair of glasses, which they hope will send moving images directly to the brain.
Dr. Nader Pouratian, who performed the operation, said: ‘The moment she saw colour for the first time was a very emotional experience. It touched us all very deeply as human beings. Based on these results, this system has the potential to restore sight to the blind.”
The patient, who has asked to remain anonymous, began to lose her sight eight years ago due to a rare disease called Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome, which attacks the pigment in the eyes. Within a year of starting to lose her sight she was completely blind. Pouratian inserted the stimulator – an array of tiny electrodes – into the back of her brain in August. In a four-hour procedure, surgeons cut a small hole in the back of her skull and laid the stimulator on the surface of her brain.