The project will develop a human implant within four years.
The Monash based team, made up of engineering and computer scientists, together with a team of medical researchers from the Department of Physiology and Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, and Victorian companies Grey Innovation and MiniFab will begin work immediately on the $8 million dollar project.
The funding was announced by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr and is one of two projects to receive support under the Australian Research Council’s Research in Bionic Vision Science and Technology Initiative, which was developed in response to the Australia 2020 Summit.
The team aims to develop a device that is implanted directly on the region of the brain that processes vision signals (the visual cortex). This will provide treatment for the majority of forms of blindness, including partial blindness.
Head of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash University Professor Arthur Lowery said the funding will allow the team to take their concept to the next level.
“We will develop a device that stimulates the brain using hundreds of electrodes. This electrode array can be placed conveniently on the surface of the brain, so the implant is not overly intrusive — a relatively simple and safe procedure,” Professor Lowery said.
“The electrodes stimulate the vision areas of the brain mimicking the stimulation they would normally receive through the optic pathway. An advantage of this approach is that it bypasses damaged or dead parts of the visual pathway including the retina and optic nerve. This means that it can cure up to 90 per cent of cases of blindness.
“Also, because the brain has a larger surface area than the retina it is possible to get a much higher resolution image than with retinal implants. It does not destroy the patient’s residual vision, it enhances it,” Professor Lowery said.
Monash University Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research Professor Edwina Cornish said the successful finding bid reflects on the university’s expertise in bioengineering
“We are deligted to have been given the financial backing to develop this concept with our partners,” Professor Cornish said.
The team includes Director of Neurosurgery at the Alfred, Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld, world renowned visual pathways expert Professor Marcello Rosa, founder of micro-manufacturing company MiniFab Dr Erol Harvey, Former CEO of Dynamic Hearing Elaine Saunders, mechanical and aerospace Engineer Professor James Friend and head of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering Professor Arthur Lowery.
For more information or to secure an interview with Professor Lowery, contact Samantha Blair, Media and Communications + 61 3 9903 4841 or 0439 013 951.