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Bionic eye to help the blind see

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Researchers at the Monash Vision Group are developing implantable brain chips to help the blind see.

Giving sight to the blind has always been a dream of science -- until now.

The Monash Vision Group at Australia's Monash University is developing a direct-to-brain bionic eye system that allows blind people to see.

A patient wears a pair of glasses equipped with a digital camera that acts like a retina and captures low-resolution black-and-white images.

The images are wirelessly sent to a brain chip, which sends signals to electrodes that penetrate into the visual cortex, the part of the brain that controls vision.

"When those electrodes are stimulated they produce sensations of light in the brain in the visual field of the recipient," the group's general manager Dr. Jeanette Pritchard tells ABC Online. "They're known as phosphenes and they're almost like pixels on a TV screen."

Although the images are too grainy to help blind people with reading or driving, Pritchard says this is a huge milestone for helping the blind see.

The team will start testing the system later this year on people who lost their sight in traumas. They are not sure yet if and how the bionic eye will work on people who have never seen.

Dr. Pritchard tells ABC Online:

"It's important that for our first patient that they have had full adult vision so that we know that their brain can process these kinds of signals because it has done so previously," Dr. Pritchard said.

"It will be a lot about how the patient can learn to interpret that information to the optimum level to get the most out of it."

Future looks good for bionic eye prototype  [ABC Online]

Photo via Monash Vision Group

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Amy Kraft

Weekend Editor

Contributing Editor Amy Kraft is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for New Scientist and DNAinfo and has produced podcasts for Scientific American's 60-Second-Science. She holds degrees from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure