In June 2009, the BrainPort vision device (pictured)—a visual prosthetic designed for those who are blind, assisting in the areas of orientation, mobility, object identification, and spot reading—was introduced during the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s
First Annual Open Session, Pittsburgh. Cpl. Mike Jernigan, a medically retired Marine who lost both eyes after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, demonstrated the device.
In October 2010, the BrainPort vision device’s licensee, Wicab, Inc., announced that they received a grant for $3.2M from the Defense Medical Research and Development Program. The funds will be used to evaluate and improve the BrainPort vision device.
The BrainPort vision device 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.
Wicab’s Aimee Arnoldussen, PhD, will lead the execution of the award milestones. World-class collaborators include co-PI Amy Nau, OD, director of optometric and low vision services and an assistant professor, the UPMC Eye Center, department of ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh, and research collaborator, The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC Eye Center and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who will oversee human subject testing and outcomes assessments. Co-PI Yaser Sheikh, PhD, from the Quality of Life Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University will provide intelligent software enhancements. The award supports home testing of the BrainPort vision device by users who are blind, with feedback and test results steering future device developments.
The BrainPort vision device was developed by the late Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientist. The technology is covered by patents held by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation ("WARF") and is exclusively licensed to Wicab. The BrainPort vision device is currently an investigational device and is not available for sale. Wicab Inc. is pursuing additional funding to support FDA clearance and commercialization.
Wicab Press Release (10/04/10)
Wisconsin State Journal (10/07/10)
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine In the News: BrainPort Vision Device
McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine In the News: Gift Will Support Regenerative Medicine Efforts to Cure Blindness and Vision Impairment
The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC Eye Center and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
Bio: Dr. Amy Nau