EPFL scientists in a European collaboration propose a personalized protocol for optimizing stimulation of optic nerve fibers, for the blind, which takes into account feedback from the viewer’s brain. The protocol has been tested on artificial neural networks known to simulate the physiology of the entire visual system, from the eye to the visual cortex. The stimulation protocol will be tested in clinical trials with partners in Rome.

Stimulation of the nervous system with neurotechnology has opened up new avenues for treating human disorders, such as prosthetic arms and legs that restore the sense of touch in amputees, prosthetic fingertips that provide detailed sensory feedback with varying touch resolution, and intraneural stimulation to help the blind by giving sensations of sight.

Scientists in a European collaboration have shown that optic nerve stimulation is a promising neurotechnology to help the blind, with the constraint that current technology has the capacity of providing only simple visual signals.

Nevertheless, the scientists’ vision is to design these simple visual signals to be meaningful in assisting the blind with daily living. Optic nerve stimulation also avoids invasive procedures like directly stimulating the brain’s visual cortex. But how does one go about optimizing stimulation of the optic nerve to produce consistent and meaningful visual sensations?

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The study was funded by the Bertarelli Foundation.