In a first, researchers have found that the brain can combine natural vision, and that generated with the help of artificial implants, an advance which may lead to better treatment for partial blindness. The researchers, including those from Stanford University in the US, said the light-detecting layers in the eye's retina is damaged in blindness-causing conditions like Macular degeneration (AMD) which affects millions of people each year globally.
They said, under some of these cases, an artificial retina -- a device built from tiny electrodes smaller in width than a single human hair -- may be implanted. Activating these implants causes electrical stimulation of the remaining healthy retinal cells partially restoring vision.
These patients with the electrode implants possess a combination of artificial central vision, and normal peripheral vision, the scientists said. The study, published in the journal Current Biology, addressed whether the brain can integrate artificial and natural vision properly.
It reported for the first time evidence indicating that the brain can integrate natural and artificial vision, while maintaining regular information processing important for vision. "We used a unique projection system which stimulated either natural vision, artificial vision or a combination of natural and artificial vision, while simultaneously recording the cortical responses in rodents implanted with a subretinal implant," said Tamar Arens-Arad, study co-author from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
"These pioneering results have implications for better restoration of sight in AMD patients implanted with retinal prosthetic devices and support our hypothesis that prosthetic and natural vision can be integrated in the brain," said Yossi Mandel, study lead author from Bar-Ilan University in Israel.
According to the researchers, the findings may pave the way for future brain-machine interface applications where artificial and natural processes co-exist.