Zrenner’s team have been developing the implant for over a decade, painstakingly establishing that their method could work, checking its safety, finding the right materials, and testing the chip in cats. Finally, they moved on to a pilot study with real patients. They recruited 11 in total and at least five of them managed to recognise large bright objects. The last three patients to go through the operation are described in the group’s new paper. They include Miikka, another man, and a woman, who had all lost their previously excellent sight due to inherited disorders. Their vision had deteriorated for decades, and all of them had been fully blind for at least five years.
As it is typical in scientific research, unexpected results turn into unexpected inventions. The coolest ‘side-effect’ of the eye-sight-restoring-computer-chip? Night vision.
As a final twist to this tale, the patients’ sight actually improved beyond their original abilities in a fascinating way. The diodes in their chips aren’t exactly the same as our own natural light-detectors and they respond to light slightly different ways. The upshot of this is that they implant made the patients very sensitive to infrared light, something that we can’t actually see.