Researchers crack retinal code to deliver artificial vision


One of the things many people believe about going blind is that they’re never going to see again. Blindness is often a side effect of a variety of diseases, one of the most common being diabetes. Although significant research and development has gone into helping the blind see again in some capacity, a major breakthrough has been made by scientists in order to help the blind see like everyone else.

Two researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College have deciphered a mouse’s retina’s neural code and coupled this information to a novel prosthetic device to restore sight to blind mice. The researchers say they have also cracked the code for a monkey retina—which is essentially identical to that of a human—and hope to quickly design and test a device that blind humans can use.

“It’s an exciting time. We can make blind mouse retinas see, and we’re moving as fast as we can to do the same in humans,” says Dr. Nirenberg, a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and in the Institute for Computational Biomedicine at Weill Cornell.

This new approach provides hope for the 25 million people worldwide who suffer from blindness due to diseases of the retina. Because drug therapies help only a small fraction of this population, prosthetic devices are their best option for future sight.”This is the first prosthetic that has the potential to provide normal or near-normal vision because it incorporates the code,” Dr. Nirenberg explains.

“Incorporating the code had a dramatic impact,” Dr. Nirenberg said. “It jumped the system’s performance up to near-normal levels—that is, there was enough information in the system’s output to reconstruct images of faces, animals—basically anything we attempted.”