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Bionic Eye Patient Tests Planned For 2013

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the gentlemen-we-can-rebuild-him dept.

Medicine 59

angry tapir writes "Australian researchers are getting ready to test a bionic eye on patients in 2013. The eye consists of 98 electrodes that stimulate nerve cells in the retina, which is a tissue lining the back of the eye that converts light into electrical impulses necessary for sight, and allow users to better differentiate between light and dark. With the bionic eye, images taken by a camera are processed in an external unit, such as a smartphone, then relayed to the implant's chip. This stimulates the retina by sending electric signals along the optic nerve into the brain where they are decoded as vision."

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59 comments

I can see where this is going... (3, Funny)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#39819101)

...right down the tubes if your bionic eye suddenly decides to start humming Bjork tunes and your Google phone joins in...

Re:I can see where this is going... (5, Funny)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | about 2 years ago | (#39819181)

Well from my limited knowledge of the bionic eye (gleaned from watching The Six Million Dollar Man), the sound of the eye would be extremely irritating. It makes a very loud Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo noise.

Re:I can see where this is going... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39820463)

Come on now, this is 2012. You have a volume knob now, and a mute button in the deluxe version.

Re:I can see where this is going... (1)

krakelohm (830589) | about 2 years ago | (#39821461)

Just make sure you don't get the CSI: Miami version, that thing screams YEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAA every time you take off your glasses.

Re:I can see where this is going... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39831577)

I want the original CSI version with the "enhance" feature.

Re:I can see where this is going... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39826003)

Imagine being rickrolled. And forced to see it...

Saying it does not make you cool. (4, Funny)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#39819159)

Please, don't quote the line. You know the one. The one with three comparatives. It's too predictable.

Re:Saying it does not make you cool. (2)

mblase (200735) | about 2 years ago | (#39819243)

Please, don't quote the line. You know the one. The one with three comparatives. It's too predictable.

We can requote it. We have the keyboards.

Re:Saying it does not make you cool. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39819255)

I guess you don't mean this one : Citius. altius, fortius.

I wonder if, down the line, people with bionic eyes will be allowed into regular olympics.

They could destroy the competition at shooting targets, or any sports actually (with the help of augmented reality).

Re:Saying it does not make you cool. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#39819381)

Not sure about competitive shooting at that level, but at smaller events I know of people using contacts and such to ensure they have superhuman vision at the distance they will be shooting. Basically just making sure they get the maximum amount of correction when at the optometrist. This must aid them against unaided shooters who may have 20/40 vision and not even know it.

Re:Saying it does not make you cool. (4, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#39819939)

You are correct; many baseball players with 20/20 get LAISIK to improve their vision to better than 20/20.

But this device isn't going to give anyone super vision. "The eye consists of 98 electrodes". That's some damned low resolution. This is for those with no vision at all, someone who has had their eye poked out completely. It will give a very tiny amount of vision to someone who was formerly completely blind. You wouldn't want to replace a working eyeball with this thing.

In twenty years? Who knows?

Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (4, Informative)

DrYak (748999) | about 2 years ago | (#39819355)

One of the challenges I see is that the optical nerve, isn't really a peripheral nerve (connecting peripheral sensors to the central nervous system), but something connecting 2 parts of the central nervous system. Beside other peculiarities stemming from this, it has a result which makes the bionic eye much more complicated than other organ replacements:
The signal is already processed. Light get detected in the deeper layer of the retina (where the cones and rods lives), transmitted to the upper layer (nerves cells doing this transmission plays the same role as peripheral nerves) and gets processed in the upper layer.
The optical nerve doesn't carry simply levels detected from the cones and rods, instead it carry some shape information (boundary detection done by comparing signals from neighbouring groups of cones and rods) and colour contrast information (done by comparing the signal of a small group of cones with surrounding cones). (The same kind of pre-processing going into the spine or the crianial nerve's nuclei).

A bionic eye will need to similarly pre-process the image, and then manage to send the correct output to the correct type of fiber.
On the other hand, the various later stages of the visual pathway in the brain do further processing on the signal (line detection, shape detection, motion detection, etc...), so the brain might manage to make something useful out of the signal even if it isn't optimal at that stage.

I wonder how functional and useful the resulting perceived image would be for the patient. Well, probably better than nothing, but still...

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#39819675)

They are interfacing to the retina. With appropriate interfacing, you might be able to keep all that processing capability intact. You'd just need a way to stimulate the photoreceptor cells and nothing else. Like, say, a sufficiently high resolution biocompatible OLED display.* Not much good against neural damage, but great if the fault is in the optical part of the eye. There's no reason it couldn't work, just engineering challenges to overcome.

* A literal retinal display. May be trademark issues.

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (1)

greenarj (1170341) | about 2 years ago | (#39820337)

I believe they are stimulating the ganglion cells in the retina. Those are the cells that take signals from photoreceptors and send them to the optic nerve. The primary target for such implants are people with macular degeneration: the photoreceptors slowly die, but the rest of the retina is healthy. This is the leading cause of blindness in the world. Also, you don't necessarily need thousands of electrodes. Even with a single electrode a person can potentially learn to scan the scene to identify objects.

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39819729)

You're absolutely right. Your bullshit superficial analysis based on very few facts definitely shows that first bionic eye won't be very useful.

So hey, why try it at all?

/. - where uninformed opinion is rated Informative

*Challenge*, not *impossible* (2)

DrYak (748999) | about 2 years ago | (#39821133)

You're absolutely right. Your bullshit superficial analysis based on very few facts definitely shows that first bionic eye won't be very useful.

Sorry, but where again did I say that no bionic eye will ever be possible?
I said there's an interesting challenge. And probably the first generations of bionic eye will have a hard time replacing the whole retina including this processing functionality. In fact, apparently due to this exact challenge, the first planned bionic eye don't replace the whole retina, but stimulate the middle layer (the one transmitting the signal from receptors to the upper processing layers), thus not replacing the whole retina, but only the photoreceptor (still useful for some disease, like macular degeneration as reported elsewhere in this thread, but not yet as useful for other disease like diabetes where the whole retina dies)

where uninformed opinion is rated Informative

It happens, not only that IAAMD, but that I did my bachelor-level thesis (well equivalent thereof. It was before the Bologna treaty in europe and the splitting of university cursus into bachelor and master) on bionic implants. Got to interview scientist working on such implants (research teams working bionic eyes, and surgical team using cochlear implant). This challenge is exactly what said bionic eye researcher told us too. And given the above, this is also considered for the upcoming bionic eyes.

But yeah, its just easy to troll around and bash people making point about interesting challenges arising in some research.

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (2)

jellie (949898) | about 2 years ago | (#39819937)

From the lab's website, it appears that this wide-angle bionic eye has only 98 electrodes. I believe each electrode can only stimulate one photoreceptor, creating a "phosphene" (which is essentially a single point of light). With 98 electrodes, you can have a grid of up to 98 phosphenes to give a very primitive description of what you see. This research group also has a high-acuity implant with 1024 electrodes for better quality.

As to your original comment, I don't know but I imagine that stimulating any brain tissue is a complex thing itself. I've seen a short video about a woman using the Dobelle system, in which a pair of glasses with 144 electrodes is wired directly through the skull and the electrode is implanted in the visual cortex. I'm not sure what kind of signal processing is involved, but every patient had to be trained to interpret the images they saw (similar to this case). It looks much more difficult than the neuroprosthetic arms, since vision requires much less room for error.

Many groups have done similar things, but with different approaches. Here's a list of some of them:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_prosthesis [wikipedia.org]

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39820401)

I wonder whether interfacing to the visual cortex is sort of a dead end approach. The information from the optic nerve travels to two main areas of the brain. The visual cortex gives us the canvas for what we see, but recognition of what is actually going on is largely based on subconscious areas of the brain which overlay impressions or feeling and recognition about what we see. People who have had strokes to certain areas of the brain have a hard time figuring out what they're seeing from visual cortex information alone (and alternately, people who are visual cortex blind can still sense objects and react to them). The conscious mind doesn't do that kind of heavy lifting very well which is why it gets so much subconscious help.

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (2)

JustNiz (692889) | about 2 years ago | (#39820075)

I'm thinking that the project has a large expectation that the brain will also significantly adapt and learn to translate/process the incoming info.

The brain almost certainly wont be receiving info from the bionic eye thats even close to the same as a functioning eye would send given the same stimulus.

Re:Optical nerve isn't really a peripheral nerve (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#39820695)

The signal is already processed. Light get detected in the deeper layer of the retina (where the cones and rods lives), transmitted to the upper layer (nerves cells doing this transmission plays the same role as peripheral nerves) and gets processed in the upper layer.

That's new to me, can you give a citation where I can learn more detail about this? It goes against my own experience, what I learned in a physics class, and whay my retina surgeon said.

In college I took a physics class concerning light and optics, and the professor said that seeing isn't a function of the eye, but of the brain. Perhaps it was a matter of his being a physicist and not a biologist. Perhaps more has been learned in the last 40 years.

Several years ago I had a detached retina, and had many visits to my retina specialist afterward. One day I had symptoms that worried the hell out of me, but he said it was simply an "optical migrane" and had nothing whatever to do with the eye.

Neuro physiology (1)

DrYak (748999) | about 2 years ago | (#39821297)

That's new to me, can you give a citation where I can learn more detail about this?

Most of the Neurophysiology books I've read during my medial studies. I'll have to pick up a specific reference.
Meanwhile Wikipedia isn't that bad [wikipedia.org] and has some explanation of how the signals are processed.

In college I took a physics class concerning light and optics, and the professor said that seeing isn't a function of the eye, but of the brain. Perhaps it was a matter of his being a physicist and not a biologist.

It's a good enough approximation for a light & optics course.
It's just that once you go into the tiny details, you might need to be more precise.
"seeing isn't a function of the eye, but of the brain."
is somewhat correct, except that the first steps of this brain processing is already taking place in some layers of the retina, because it has more in common with the central nervous system than other sensory organs.
"Seeing isn't a function of the optical eye, but a function of the neural processing done on said signal"
But then you'll need to go into details about the various neural circuitry, which well beyond the scope of a *physics* course.
Just like newtonian physics are a good enough model for my field of work and I don't need to think about Einstein or quantum mechanics or string theory or whatever.

Bionic Eye (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39819385)

hmm thats interesting, I'm interested to see how that turns out, helping people with sight problems. Somewhat clever idea too.

Re:Bionic Eye (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#39819517)

Never mind people with sight problems, I want this to recreate the early days of internet porn when 98 pixels and eight different colors was high resolution.

ears and eyes from Australia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39819401)

What next?

I want (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#39819573)

I hope they will have a nice visor that goes over my bionic eyes, that lets me see infrared, warp core plasma, and all sorts of exotic radiation. I promise to sing the "Reading Rainbow" song while wearing it.

Re:I want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39819623)

I want to keep both my eyes AND have bionic eyes.

Coolest/Evilest hacks ever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39819911)

So the image processing is done on a smartphone, then sent to a chip in the eye, presumably wireless.

Re:Coolest/Evilest hacks ever (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#39821855)

oh my the potential for trolling is immense. can you imagine the horror of having goatse streamed straight to your brain? or some one rickrolling your vision.

Not really an eye (2)

HJED (1304957) | about 2 years ago | (#39819915)

If it is being processed on an external device it is likely that the camera will not be in the eye (at least at first), and it appears that any camera is supported which leads to some interesting possibilities (streaming TV or the internet direct to your optic nerve anyone?) and also some interesting hacking opportunities. To bad that installing something like this would require you to lose an eye however it could lead the way to space opera style cyborgs.

I assume that 98 electrodes means a resolution similar to 98 pixels so it sadly wouldn't provide a very good replacement, however this will probably improve in time as historically eye problems have attracted strong support and funding. It would also not work very well for people with damaged optic nerves and would probably require the removal of a natural eye if the patient has one.

Re:Not really an eye (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39820687)

Did you RTFS? It doesn't interface to the optic nerve, but to the retina -- since this is part of the eye, "removal of a natural eye" is a show-stopper, not a prerequisite. What damage is done to the front part of the eye (iris, lens, and friends) is not clear (since I didn't RTFA), but the obvious eventual outcome is that they would be removed and replaced with a short focal length digital camera, plus interface electronics and battery, all mounted inside the existing eyeball. Low-light vision will suck due to the small aperture. Charging will be inductive with a coil in an eyeglass-like frame -- this can also support NFC (or wired, at the risk of irritation from plugging/unplugging) to relay images both in and out (a diagnostic interface is necessary, and will provide these functions directly or indirectly). And it'll be hella better than not seeing.

Huh? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#39820019)

Can someone explain how sending signals to the brain stimulates the retina? Do they bounce and come back out or something?

Re:Huh? (3, Informative)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#39820505)

Replacing "by" with a comma in the last sentence clarifies things:

This stimulates the retina, sending electric signals along the optic nerve into the brain where they are decoded as vision.

Deus Ex (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39820181)

I never asked for this

Done already? (1)

dylsexia (1921540) | about 2 years ago | (#39820513)

I seem to recall reading an article about this 10-15 years ago, in which they had an 8x8 array of sensors that were directly stimulating areas in the visual cortext. Fully blind patients were able to correctly identify a number of shapes.

However, if I recall correctly, the nerves' responsiveness to the unnatural direct electrical stimulation wore off quite quickly, and the assessment at the end was that the electrical/neuronal coupling was going to be the main problem to overcome.

Re:Done already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39824529)

It *is* done already: (german article) http://www.3sat.de/page/?source=/nano/medizin/155205/index.html

Retina Display (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39820589)

Do they get to call this a "Retina Display" then?

Geordi? Is that you? (1)

Temujin_12 (832986) | about 2 years ago | (#39820615)

Just think of the possibilities when the eye is given the ability to see beyond the optical wavelengths.

Re:Geordi? Is that you? (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#39821955)

or the ability to plug in to thing like screens telescopes microscopes security systems. i can imagine all sorts of extension of this tech.
air traffic controllers able to plug into a radar system. or hook up a sonar system and have 360 degree detection?

1,500 electrode bionic eye implanted already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39821183)

There are a couple of groups working on commercial bionic eyes, one implant with 1,500 electrodes (that's actually high enough resolution to be useful for recognizing objects) did allow some previously blind people to read text, in a human study between 2005-2010:

Link to the original paper with PDF download: HTML [nih.gov], PDF [nih.gov]

Published in the journal Proc Royal Soc B: http://royalsociety.org/news/retinal-implant/ [royalsociety.org]

In the media: forbes.com February 2012 [forbes.com]

BionicVision Australia website (1)

mrb000gus (696332) | about 2 years ago | (#39821707)

This appears to be the company doing the research, they're based in Victoria but the UNSW logo appears at the end of the video:
http://bionicvision.org.au/eye [bionicvision.org.au]
(They also say they're on track for starting human tests in 2013)

Stevie (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39822005)

They should let Stevie Wonder be the first guy to get a shot at this shit, can't we give Stevie just a peek? Wrote songs in the key of love, just a quick peek?

for the lens (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39823065)

Why stick with ones in the eye sockets? If you're already doing the processing offsite, why not have the lens remote and movable, too? It would be pretty trippy if your POV was your cellphone, always seeing yourself in the 3rd person viewpoint. Then again, the opportunities for upskirt shots or seeing around corners would be pretty cool.

Does it work with Siri? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39825393)

Siri, what am I looking at?

And it *DOESN'T WORK* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39829317)

This is an old problem. Getting electrodes on individual neurons is the holy grail of neural implants, but if you make the electrodes that small, they damage the nerves over time IImpedances around tiny electrodes are high, current densities are high, and the current needed to spred to and stimulate the nerves tends to be high enough to cause electrolysis. Electolysis is *BAD* in tissue.

When you make the electrodes large enough to reduce the impedance to something reasonable, and reduce the current density, the electrodes are too big. This is especially true in the retina, where electrodes are basically half floating in a salty bath of vitrious humor. It works well in cochlear implants because the electrodes are surrounded by a bony channel that restricts current to the local nerve,a nd the nerves are aligned in a curved line: the further in the electrode, the higher frequency the sound perceived.

With the human eye, there are multiple *classes* of sensory cell, different pigments, with several layers of sophisticated processing sells behind them doing "center surround" based processing, edge detection, and the electodes have *no way* to localize the current to the appropriate layers of cells. It's like trying to type with boxing gloves on.

How do I know about this? I *built* the highest frequency neural stimulators in the world several decades ago.

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