A Salt Lake foundation has made a $25,000 grant to the University of Utah's Department of Ophthalmology for research in artificial vision.
The goal of the U.'s artificial vision program is to invent a system that directly stimulates the visual part of the brain. Preliminary tests confirmed that electrical stimulation of the brain provides a limited sense of sight for the blind but doesn't produce useful vision, according to Richard A. Normann, professor of bioengineering, opthalmology and physiology.Normann and co-researchers are creating new types of electrode structures. These devices, made of silicon, are designed to be inserted into the brain, rather than positioned on the brain's surface as with earlier models.
Patrick Campbell and Kelly Jones, two graduate students, have created electrode arrays that contain 100 needle-shaped electrodes on a 1/8-inch-square silicon chip. Each electrode is 1/16-inch long and thinner than a human hair. Another graduate student, Patrick Rousche, has developed a pneumatic device to accurately implant the electrodes into the brain.
But despite such successes, Normann cautions that much research is needed, including invention of a mini-television camera tiny enough to be mounted on eyeglass frames, before producing a functional artificial eye. "Many physiological questions must be answered before human experimentation is begun," Normann said.
Max B. Lewis, president of the William H. and Mattie Wattis Harris Foundation, said the award continues the foundation's goal of helping mankind.