A new probe to tackle blindness by linking digital technology and the nervous system
POSITIONED: Prosthesis to restore vision in the blind

The rapidly emerging scientific field of neurotechnology is changing medical practice. POSITIONED (PrOstheSIs to resTore vIsiOn iN thE blind) aims to develop a new link between digital technology and the nervous system to improve the lives of patients with disorders of the nervous system. We will develop a new type of neuroprosthesis called “fountain probe”, which is a high-density interface with neurons in a relatively small volume in the brain. The new probe can be implanted through a small burr hole in the skull. We will ultimately aim to position hundreds of electrodes in a volume of less than 200 mm3. As an example use-case, we choose blindness, a condition that affects more than 40 million people across the world. To enable sight, visual information is registered in the retina of the eye, and passed on to the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), from where it reaches the visual cortex. In humans, the LGN has a volume of approximately 120 mm3 and previous studies have demonstrated that electrical stimulation of LGN electrodes causes the perception of dots of light, called “phosphenes”. We expect that the fountain probe will cover the entire LGN with electrodes and that it can be implanted with a procedure that is as invasive as deep-brain stimulation. The probe will enable perception in the entire visual field, which has been impossible to achieve with previous approaches. The future user will wear a camera, and the video stream is processed to give rise to phosphenes that outline the relevant objects in the user’s vicinity. We will test the probe in mice to assess functionality: how well it integrates with the brain tissue and how long it keeps working. POSITIONED will thereby provide insight into the short and long-term functionality of a device that could restore a simple form of vision for people who are blind.

POSITIONED is a public-private partnership between the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (NIN) and a med-tech startup Phosphoenix.

The project has been awarded 211k EUR from the PPP Allowance made available by Health-Holland, Top Sector Life Sciences & Health, to stimulate public-private partnerships.