Thanks to a successful study involving rhesus macaques, the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience has got a step closer to achieving one of its primary objectives: allowing blind people to see without actually using their eyes. The Algemeen Dagblad newspaper reported on the story last week.
The researchers involved in the project are seeking to create futuristic glasses with a mini camera that will transmit the images straight to the wearer's brain. Rhesus macaques play an important part in the development of this method, since they use the same part of the brain as humans to convert external information into images.
A thousand dots
One thousand electrodes were implanted into that area of one single rhesus macaque's brain. Whenever electricity is applied to one of these electrodes, the monkey will see a flash of light. And very recently this animal has begun to see a thousand little dots. ‘It was as if the lights in the Christmas tree had just been turned on,’ Pieter Roelfsema, the Director of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, was quoted as saying in AD last week. ‘We are now developing a programme that can edit the images recorded by the camera to the point where the patient will soon only see those things which are relevant to him.’
Although the recent breakthrough constitutes light in the dark for blind people, Roelfsema was quick to damp the journalist's expectation that some blind patients would be able to walk the streets without a cane in five years' time. ‘Of course I'm going to have to make sure my predictions are not overly optimistic, but we are very close.’
So perhaps blind people will have to wait a little longer than five years, but however long they may have to wait, the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience's study results show that there is light in the dark for blind people. And Jens Naumann's incredible story shows why subjecting human subjects to a system that has not undergone sufficient testing is not an option...