Grant Application

José-Alain Sahel, MD, UPMC Eye Center

Proposed Innovation

Blindness is among the most feared disabilities because of its lasting impact on a person’s health and quality of life. In the United States alone, more than 1 million people are considered clinically blind. Restoring even partial vision for these individuals could be lifechanging. But at least half of those with acquired blindness have retinal or optic nerve damage that is too severe for vision to be restored with a retinal treatment.

Through this groundbreaking project, a visual neuroprosthetic will be developed to restore functional vision in blind patients. The project will combine neurosurgical techniques with cutting-edge technology to deliver visual information through brain stimulation.

Improvements in Action

Three novel tools — artificial intelligence, computational neuroscience, and real-time computer vision — will be used to create a visual experience via electrical brain stimulation. Electrodes will be neurosurgically implanted in the visual cortex of participants with acquired blindness. While wearing eye-tracking glasses, they will then perform tasks, such as simulated driving or navigating a room. The brain-computer interface will be used to detect patterns of brain stimulation and allow for continuous updates and improvements using AI algorithms.

Intended Outcomes

Successful completion of this project will demonstrate the feasibility of an integrated AI, computer vision, and neurosurgical approach for neuroprosthetic treatment of blindness. It is expected to provide a foundation for further development of a cortical visual prosthesis and lead to a large-scale clinical trial.