University of Bremen: Allow blind people to see impressions again

Enabling blind people to see impressions again: This is the vision of the “I See” project, which also includes neuroscientists from the University of Bremen. The approach: A miniature camera collects visual information and translates it into signal patterns that are then transmitted to implants in the brain.
“The implants should directly control the areas of the brain that are responsible for processing visual information,” explains Dr. Udo Ernst from the Institute for Theoretical Physics, who together with his colleague Dr. David Rotermund is a member of the international consortium of the “I See” project. In addition to the two Bremen scientists, researchers from Bochum, Switzerland and Canada are also involved in “I See”. The project is funded by the European Union with around 900,000 euros.

Learning to speak the language of the brain
“All previous approaches to the construction of a cortical visual prosthesis mostly only produce roundish and glaring points of light as visual impression with electrical pulses,” says David Rotermund. “If you want to increase the number of light points, the simultaneous stimulation with several electrodes quickly leads to very large injected currents and thus to an overload of the visual system. We would now like to combine two novel approaches in order to produce much more structured perceptions with fewer electrodes and lower currents. “

The prostheses can be significantly improved if they take into account the already existing activation of the cerebral cortex and adapt the stimulation to the information coding in the brain. “Our prostheses should learn the ‘language of the brain’ using advanced data analysis methods and adjust the right time to gently couple the desired visual impression to the pre-activation of the brain. To put it more simply: We would prefer to work with the visual system instead of imposing our will on it, ”says Udo Ernst.

The use of cochlear implants is already a medical standard for the sense of hearing. For the sense of sight, such peripheral prostheses have so far only been possible to a limited extent. While electronic retinal implants can be used for diseases of the retina such as retinopathia pigmentosa, aids for central diseases of the visual system – such as those caused by diabetes mellitus, for example – are only conceivable through direct control of brain activity.

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