After a number of successful retinal implants — more commonly known as bionic eye implants — scientists are beginning to understand what implantees actually, well, see.
According to a study published by the Royal Society in Philosophical Transactions B and co-authored by Geoffrey M. Boynton and Ione Fine, both professors at the University of Washington's Department of Psychology, little is currently known about the "perceptual experience" of those who have retinal implants, i.e., what images actually look like. Inasmuch to this, Boynton and Fine's research "focuses on methodologies, such as optogenetics, small molecule photoswitches and electrical prostheses, which use artificial stimulation of the retina to elicit percepts."
Currently, scientists have more or less an idea of what the world looks like through bionic eyes due to an understanding of how retinal cells react to electro-stimulation and signals. With the use of computer imaging, Fine and Boynton came up with a close approximation of what it looks like to view the world through bionic eyes based off of two respective types of sight-recovering technological therapies.
Due to the way that the retina reacts to electric signals in turn affects bionic imaging — patients might see "streaks," a result of cell over-stimulation. Studies like Fine and Boynton's, they hope, will be able to make strides in fine-tuning this.
Currently, the only retinal prosthesis approved in the U.S. is the Argus II, which celebrated a milestone earlier this year with the first successful implantation in the UK. The transplantee, an 80-year-old man named Ray Flynn who suffers from age-related macular degeneration, reported regaining low-res central vision about one month post-surgery.
"This is a really difficult decision to make," Fine said in a press release. "These devices involve long surgeries, and they don't restore anything close to normal vision. The more information patients have, the better."
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