The work of researchers involved in a joint program of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
and the UPMC Eye Center—The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh—which specializes in the most common diseases associated with vision loss, was recently highlighted in the journal Scientific American and featured on Oprah Radio. The scientific and clinical team of The Fox Center led by McGowan Institute faculty members Joel Schuman, MD (pictured top), Eye and Ear Foundation Professor and chairman of Ophthalmology, and director of the UPMC Eye Center, and Major General (Ret.) Gale Pollock (pictured bottom), executive director of The Fox Center, is working with Wicab, Inc. to improve the effectiveness of BrainPort, a vision device developed by neuroscientists at the Middleton, Wisconsin-based company. Following this collaborative effort, the device could be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for market by the end of 2009 at a cost of about $10,000 per machine.
For those who are blind, the non-surgical BrainPort vision device is an investigational assistive device for orientation, mobility, object identification, and spot reading. It enables perception of visual information using the tongue and camera system as a paired substitute for the eye. Visual information is collected from a video camera and translated into gentle electrical stimulation patterns on the surface of the tongue. Users describe it as pictures drawn on their tongue with champagne bubbles. With training, users may perceive shape, size, location, and motion of objects in their environment. The BrainPort vision device is intended to augment rather than replace other assistive technology such as the white cane or guide dog.
The BrainPort device was demonstrated by Cpl. Mike Jernigan, a medically retired Marine who lost both eyes after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, during the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine First Open Meeting. Additional information about this demonstration can be found here
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Scientific American (08/13/09)
Oprah Radio (08/21/09)