The Many Challenges of Prosthetic Vision

We’ve all heard of prosthetic legs, arms, even eyes – but have you ever thought about prosthetic vision? Prof. John Pezaris and his team of researchers at Harvard made the unimaginable reality. Whether someone lost their vision due to trauma to eyes, glaucoma, retinitis or other diseases, device-based therapy to correct complete vision loss is now in the works. Turns out, we can provide a substitute pathway for visual information to enter the brain and be decoded.

Using deep brain stimulation, the brain is being taught to respond to a new visual pathway. This is done via implanting electrodes in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) of the thalamus which receives information from eye-glass mounted digital cameras. The challenge that Prof Pezaris and his team faced in the field of prosthetic vision was finding an appropriate potential visual pathway. Years of work, still ongoing, as well as courage to attain the unattainable, have led Prof Pezaris’ Visual Prosthetic Laboratory to prove the reliability of thalamic microstimulation. Two other potential visual pathways have also been analyzed and further developed, through stimulation of the retina and cortex. The advantages and disadvantages of each are a matter of debate, as medical indications vary with the degree of invasiveness.  

His experiments and thoughts about the future of this field will be discussed by the innovator himself this spring at MEDICS 9.


John Pezaris

Prof John S. Pezaris is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School. He leads the Visual Prosthetic Laboratory and holds the position of Assistant Investigator at Mass General Research Institute. Prof. Pezaris holds degrees in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT, as well as a doctorate in computation and neural systems from the California Institute of Technology.