Utilising the same principle that lets a TV camera transform external images into electric signals, IST project OPTIVIP has tested an implantable visual prosthesis to stimulate the optic nerve and allow limited sight for certain sufferers of blindness.
The method used by the four-year project is based on the stimulation of the optic nerve by a cuff electrode. The prosthesis is operational only if the optic nerve is still healthy in spite of the complete blindness. For this reason, OPTIVIP has targeted retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that leads to the premature ageing and a disappearance of the retina receiving cells that leads to blindness over time. Hereditary in 60 per cent of the cases, it occurs to roughly 1 out of every 5,000 women and 1 out of every 4,000 men.
The origins of the project can be traced to February 1998, when within the framework of the ESPRIT project MiViP, an electrode designed to stimulate the optic nerve was implanted in a volunteer who was completely blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. The use of this electrode made possible the electrical stimulation of the optic nerve by means of external equipment. This revealed numerous successful visual perceptions called phosphenes, which are apparitions of luminous sensations, and it was decided to implant a telemetrically controlled neurostimulator in the same patient.
Tara Morris | IST Results
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