June 2018 Herald Sun
Human trials are about to start on the wireless device that could change the lives of millions of blind people. The device comes with a coiled antenna that sits on the back of the head and sends information from a camera into the brain — bypassing sightless eyes — to restore vision.
Neurosurgeon Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld said blind people fitted with the device would see flashes of light straight away but not a high-quality image. “It will restore enough vision to improve their level of function in activities of daily living like recognising objects on a table and when people near them are moving,” Prof Rosenfeld said. “They won’t be able to recognise the detail of a person’s face unless they hear the voice but they will be able recognise where a staircase is, where a door or door handle is — common things you need to navigate the environment in everyday life.”
People will be able to see the outline of things such as a staircase, object or face.
The project has just won $500,000 in Australian government funding to develop. Now Prof Rosenfeld and his team from the Monash Vision Group are searching for several fully blind Australians to sign up for the trials, which will be followed by a much larger test program.
“We have about 50 people on our books straight away who are keen to go ahead … there are 50,000 blind people in Australia but not all will be candidates for this (device),” he said.
Fitted to the rear of the brain, the blind person wears custom-designed glasses with a tiny camera mounted on the frame — similar in size to that in a mobile phone — which takes images and sends them to a mini computer sitting on the person’s belt or in their pocket. Information is then sent wirelessly to the vision part of the brain, called the primary visual cortex.
A mini computer will sit on the person’s belt or in their pocket to process the images.
Known as the Gennaris bionic vision system, it is designed to bypass damage to the eye and optic nerve and restore some vision to people who have lost their sight through injury and disease. Prof Rosenfeld said it was not known yet how much the device would cost but he hoped the cost for the user would be covered by insurance.
Human trials will take six to 12 months and start later this year with results reported in 2019.
More than $15 million has been spent on the project so far and more funds will be needed to expand the trials and make it affordable for users.