Research funded by the National Eye Institute and led by a team at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is exploring a non-surgical solution that could restore sight by using another of the five senses.
“This is innovative technology,” said Qifa Zhou, professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology at USC. “Right now, we are doing animal studies trying to use ultrasound stimulation to replace electric stimulation.”
The research group is led by Zhou, and Mark S. Humayun, professor of ophthalmology and biomedical engineering at USC, and one of the inventors of Argus II — the world’s first artificial retina.
“The technology is advantageous since no surgery is required and no device will be implanted inside the body,” said Gengxi Lu, a Ph.D. student in Zhou’s lab. “A wearable ultrasound device will generate ultrasound waves to stimulate the retina”.
Similar to how shapes and bright spots appear when you gently push on your eyeball with your eyes closed; researchers realized that applying pressure to the eye can activate neurons and send signals to the brain.
Unlike a normal eye that is activated by light, the blind eyes were stimulated by mechanical pressures generated by ultrasound waves in this study.
“The neurons present in the retina of the eye possess mechanically sensitive channels that respond to mechanical stimulation,” Lu explained. “These neurons are activated when we use ultrasound to generate mechanical pressure.”