CORTIVIS Approach for intracortical visual prostheses

Cortical prostheses are a subgroup of visual neuroprostheses capable of evoking visual percepts in profoundly blind people through the direct electrical stimulation of the occipital cortex. This approach may be the only treatment available for blindness caused by glaucoma, end-stage retinitis pigmentosa, optic atrophy, trauma to the retinas and/or optic nerves or for blindness caused by diseases of the central visual pathways such as brain injuries or stroke. We are now facing the challenge of creating such an intracortical visual neuroprosthesis designed to interface with the occipital visual cortex as a means by which a limited though useful visual sense could be restored to these blind patients.

The specific goal of the proposed research is to demonstrate the feasibility of a cortical neuroprosthesis, based on the Utah Electrode Array and interfaced with the visual cortex, to improve the quality of life of profoundly blind people. While the full restoration of vision appears to be unlikely in the near future, the discernment of shape and object location could allow blind subjects to ‘navigate’ in a familiar environment and to read enlarged text, resulting in a substantial improvement in the quality of life of blind and visually impaired persons. In addition, if we can gain greater insight to the fundamental mechanisms of neuronal coding, and for the safe stimulation of the nervous system, there will be real potential to apply this knowledge clinically in other sensory or motor pathologies, as it is widely accepted that the biophysical processes involved in stimulating and recording from neurons are ubiquitous throughout the entire nervous system.