Scientists install a visual neuroimplant in a monkey, blind people are next in line

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Scientists install a visual neuroimplant in a monkey, blind people are next in line
Scientists install a visual neuroimplant in a monkey, blind people are next in line
26 January, 12:04SportPhoto: elvis-tech.ru
Testing on monkeys is the last stage of preclinical testing of the ELVIS brain implant. The creators of the technology believe that starting from 2027 it will become widespread and will restore sight to blind and deaf-blind people.

The first operation to install a Russian neuroimplant in a monkey, which is being worked on by the Deaf-Blind Support Fund "Connection" and the non-profit Sensor-Tech Laboratory, took place at the Research Institute of Medical Primatology in Sochi. Neurosurgeon Artur Biktimirov installed a matrix with electrodes in the brain of a six-year-old sighted male baboon. The operation involved a professional team of doctors - a neurophysiologist, anesthesiologists, veterinarians. The baboon feels well and recovers quickly.

“The new phase of preclinical testing has been successful and we are now just a few steps away from starting research in blind volunteers. Our task was not only to test the equipment and electrodes, it was also important to work out the surgical nuances. The electrodes that we supplied were developed with the participation of specialists from Sechenov University. In the next steps, we will test how the electronic vision works in animals, whether they can see blindfolded, only with the help of ELVIS. We expect that animal testing will last until the end of 2023”, - said Denis Kuleshov, Director of the Sensor-Tech Laboratory.

Over the next two years, the team will install a neuroimplant in dozens of monkeys and conduct a series of behavioral experiments. In one of them, the monkey will be taught to distinguish geometric shapes in advance, before the implant is installed. Then, after placing the electrodes in the visual cortex, the animal will perform the same exercise, but blindfolded, using electronic vision. All tests are carried out in compliance with international ethical standards.

“Testing of the technology began to be carried out in 2020. The first stage was tests on rodents, the scientists evaluated the reaction of their brains to the impact of the electrodes. This stage has been successfully completed, and now the neuroimplant will be tested on species that are closer to humans - on monkeys. In 2024, we expect to move to the installation of ELVIS for the first blind volunteers. Already now we are receiving many applications for participation, in two years we will begin the selection of candidates”, - said Natalia Sokolova, Executive Director of the So-edinenie Foundation.

According to the forecasts of the project team, the operation to install a neuroimplant for people will become widely available in Russia in 2027.

ELVIS allows you to "connect" cameras to the brain and transmit the image to it directly, without the help of the eyes. This process is provided by three blocks of the system. Firstly, an implant that is installed in the visual cortex of the brain and stimulates it with small currents. Thanks to this, a person or animal begins to experience visual sensations and sees flashes of light. Secondly, a headband with two cameras: the user wears it on the head, and the cameras read the image in real time, performing the “eye function”. Thirdly, a microcomputer that analyzes the image from the cameras, highlights the contours of important objects and transmits the processed frames directly to the implant in the brain. The microcomputer is attached to the user's belt.

The synchronous operation of the three components of ELVIS allows you to confidently distinguish the silhouettes of objects and people, to understand where and what is. The technology will be effective for those blind and deaf-blind people who have retinal damage, optic nerve pathology or other severe visual impairments. This group includes patients with such complex diseases as terminal glaucoma, terminal retinitis pigmentosa, genetic retinal dystrophies, total retinal detachment, tumors of the optic nerve and visual pathways. The neuroimplant will allow people to see who, for whatever reason, do not physically have eyes.

System components are developed in Russia. Among the project partners are the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, the First Moscow State Medical University named after I.M. Sechenov, the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Center for Collective Design of the RTU MIREA, OS Neuronet, the Skolkovo Foundation (VEB.RF Group) and the Moscow Innovation Cluster.

You can find out the details of the project, as well as leave an application for participation in clinical trials on the website.

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